The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Will Jerald Hawkins get work at guard this offseason?
When the Steelers narrowed in on Jerald Hawkins in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, one of the things that most attracted him to them was his athleticism. He hasn’t gotten a lot of opportunities to show that, considering that he has spent most of his career to date on injured reserve, but he has the ultimate opportunity in 2019.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin confirmed that he will be in the mix, at least with Chukwuma Okorafor and Matt Feiler, for the vacant starting right tackle position following the Marcus Gilbert trade. But should he fail to win that job, he can strengthen his case to remain on the roster by offering position flexibility.
That would be all the more important if Feiler wins the starting job, because he is the number two interior reserve on the team behind B.J. Finney, who has made at least two starts at all three interior line positions.
Zach Banner and his mammoth frame is certainly not going to be kicking inside, and the Steelers still view Okorafor’s future at tackle. R.J. Prince and Patrick Morris are interior or interior-capable first-year players from the practice squad last season, but they will have to show they can make that jump from practice squad to 53-man roster.
Hawkins is entering the final year of his rookie contract and he has fewer than 100 snaps to his name to date because of his (admittedly freak) health issues. He was penciled in as the number three tackle for 2018 prior to his spring injury, but now he could be outside of the top four, even with Gilbert out of the picture.
Even in that event, showing well at guard would help to keep him around as he develops into a Trai Essex or Chris Hubbard, both of whom took years to reach their full potential while expanding their repertoire.