Lavon Hooks is damn near an old man at this point, or so it seems, as he heads into his fifth training camp of his NFL career—and fourth with the Pittsburgh Steelers—in spite of the fact that he has never been on the 53-man roster before.
The first-year man will turn 28 in April. For comparison, Stephon Tuitt, going into his sixth NFL season—entering the draft just a year before Hooks did—is 26. Cameron Heyward, a first-round pick in 2011, is 30 years old. Daniel McCullers, also in his sixth year, is 26 as well. Javon Hargrave, entering his fourth season, is 26, so Hooks is older than most of his veteran lineman teammates.
And he has been around almost as long as many of them. Only Heyward has more than two years of additional time logged with the Steelers than does Hooks, who has spent the past two seasons on their practice squad as well, which means he has been around for the entire year.
The eldest of the linemen, Tyson Alualu, may know him better than most. They share adjacent lockers, and he told Chris Adamski, “Lavon’s a good player. He obviously knows the defense, and he’s obviously got the ability”.
“We know he can play if we need him”, he added, and Hooks feels the same way. When asked if he felt as though he could have contributed as a member of the 53-man roster last season, he said, “I felt like I could have last year after the preseason, but it was just the way things panned out”.
McCullers was kept as the fifth lineman and the backup nose tackle, with fourth-year L.T. Walton serving as the sixth and final, and the one who only dresses when there is an injury. Walton is no longer on the roster, having not been re-signed after his rookie contract was completed, but Hooks has competition for the sixth spot.
That will come chiefly from rookie sixth-round pick Isaiah Buggs, who is a player that defensive line coach Karl Dunbar worked with in college two years ago. Dunbar also got Joshua Frazier in 2018, another player they he coached, but he failed to even make the practice squad, so that association is no guarantee.
There are other notable first-year players working Latrobe this year, including a pair of players who were both in training camp last year and who also played in the Alliance of American Football earlier this year, those being Casey Sayles and Greg Gilmore. Sayles is in his third offseason, second with the Steelers, while Gilmore was a rookie in 2018. Both are former undrafted players.
None of them have played in the preseason as well as Hooks has in stretches in each of the past two seasons, though, and he certainly has his fans here and there. I generally count myself among them, and would like to see him make one strong, final push to crack the 53-man roster this year.