It was just recently that I wrote about fourth-year tackle Jerald Hawkins and the fact that he has not had a good start to training camp. The Pittsburgh Steelers initially paid lip service to the notion that he would be in the running to compete for the vacant starting right tackle job, but his performance suggested otherwise.
His struggles were so notable that Craig Wolfley pointed it out a few days ago during a Steelers Live segment, which I mentioned when I previously discussed this topic. However, the veteran lineman offered a mea culpa yesterday during another segment after seeing the improvement, and even got a chance to talk to him about why the ‘switch’ had been ‘flipped’ for him.
I go back and watch afterwards, and he starts lighting it up. All of a sudden that switch comes on and you see him start to punch and move and then come off the ball and move people, and I’m looking at Jerald Hawkins and I had to go up and apologize to him. I said, ‘you know, you looked like you weren’t comfortable, and then all of a sudden the light comes on’. You pick up Daniel McCullers on a great twist game. Boom, you punch him. On a one-on-one with Stephon Tuitt, you’re out there punching, working the line, redirecting him. that was beautiful. I go, ‘what’s going on?’, and he goes, ‘you’ve got to remember, I’ve been out of pads for 19 months’. And I’m sitting there going, ‘yes!’. I didn’t really take that into consideration. I really jumped the gun on him.
As you will recall, Hawkins was entering his third season in 2018 after finishing the previous year—his first healthy after spending his rookie season on the Reserve/Injured List—as the backup to the backup tackle. The backup, Chris Hubbard, earned a starting contract, so the expectation was that he would move into that role.
Only he suffered a torn quad muscle early in OTAs, which put him on the shelf all year. Even back during minicamp, he put himself at about 60-70 percent health, if memory serves. Add to that the fact that he hadn’t been on a football field in pads since the end of the 2017 season, and it is more than reasonable that he might struggle beyond a reasonable level off the bat.
Olasunkanmi Adeniyi really had his number initially, and then so did Tuzar Skipper. But he’s put together a couple of better days now. If he can continue to pick it up, he can certainly keep himself in the mix for a roster spot, even if it will be difficult to jump into the middle of Matt Feiler and Chukwuma Okorafor in the right tackle battle.