The fact that he was injured for most of the past two seasons played a huge part in the decision. So did the fact that he was entering the last year of his deal, and they could clear cap space. But the biggest reason that the Pittsburgh Steelers ultimately decided to part with veteran starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert is because they knew they had a bevy of options within their depth who could step in and play at a competent level.
After all, he had not been on the field for most of the past two seasons. In 2017, Chris Hubbard did an admirable job starting for the majority of the year. It was enough to earn him a starting contract with the Cleveland Browns for 2018 and beyond. This past year, it was Matt Feiler filling it, starting 10 games and performing above the line.
Feiler has been running with the first-team offense through most of the spring, but the competition has been declare somewhat open for the right tackle job, also featuring Chukwuma Okorafor. The 2018 third-round pick also started one game at right tackle and held his own, in addition to playing as a tackle-eligible tight end throughout the year.
But they are not the only ones involved. Less talked about is Jerald Hawkins, the fourth-round pick from 2016. He was meant to be in Feiler’s position last year if not for a torn quad that he suffered in OTAs last year. After spending two of his first three seasons on injured reserve, he is trying to resurrect his career, and is being afforded the opportunity to compete for a starting job.
Tim Benz asked the fourth-year lineman about his thoughts on the competition, and he was very humble in his answer, very complimentary of his fellow challengers. “As you can see from the film, those are great guys”, he said. “They are here for a reason, especially Matt. One person went down, he came in and didn’t miss a beat. The last year for him was great, it was tremendous”.
“And Chuks came in whenever he was needed and did the same”, Hawkins went on. “He did the same job, exactly what he was told to do, he handled his business versus a great team, and you’ve got to respect that. You’ve got to just keep battling and make sure everybody gets better”.
The LSU product understands that he doesn’t have the best odds of winning the job. He is even still working his way back to full health from last year’s injury, hoping to be up and running at about 90 percent by the time training camp rolls around.
That’s not going to stop him from competing, however. While he has not gotten any snaps with the first-team line through the spring, to the best of my knowledge, he should get his opportunity at some point. All he has to do when that opportunity comes is to make the most of it.