Lavon Hooks was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Green Bay Packers in 2015. He has yet to be on a roster during the regular season. But he has also consistently been in the league in some capacity every year, those two facts combined being somewhat remarkable.
The ‘veteran’ first-year defensive lineman has spent the past four offseasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and has been on their practice squad for the past two. He still has one year of practice squad eligibility left. But he is hoping—confident, even—that he won’t need it.
Having turned 27 in January, he would have to be one of the oldest players to accrue a full season of NFL experience to have come out through the traditional college system in recent years if he does indeed manage to make the roster, especially if you discount the specialist positions.
There is reason to hope that this year could be different for him. For one thing, they have only retained five of their six offensive linemen from last season, opting not to re-sign L.T. Walton, though they did re-sign both Tyson Alualu and Daniel McCullers. McCullers knows, however, that his job should never be assumed as secure.
The Steelers did add a defensive lineman in the draft in Isaiah Buggs, a sixth-round pick out of Alabama. He seems to have promise, but he certainly would not be the first defensive lineman taken in the late rounds who fails to make the roster—see Joshua Frazier a year earlier, or Doug Worthington, Ra’Shon Harris, and Nick Williams.
Other interesting names in the mix are Casey Sayles and Greg Gilmore, both of whom, like Hooks, were in camp last year. In contrast, however, both of them played in the Alliance of American Football earlier this year, so it will be interesting to see if that meaningful playing experience has benefitted them significantly.
“It’s a weird spot” to be in, Hooks admitted to Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a fifth-year first-year player. “But I still feel confident, very confident, this year as far as earning a spot on the team”.
And avoiding the dirty words, “the practice squad”, a phrase that Adamski says Hooks was reluctant to even say, simply calling it until pressed “a place…where I can’t show my talents”. Hooks has shown his talents in recent years in training camp and in the preseason, particularly last year, I believe. If he continues to improve each year, then he figures to have a chance.
And it’s worth noting that he has a couple of compelling examples to turn to. Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler both had roundabout journeys before finally making the roster. Feiler spent three years on practice squads before making the team in 2017. Villanueva couldn’t even get a spot on an offseason roster for years until 2014, as a defensive end, before the Steelers signed him to their practice squad and put him at tackle.