For the fourth time since training camp opened, the Pittsburgh Steelers have brought back a familiar face, this time signing former fourth-round offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins off the Houston Texans’ practice squad to their 53-man roster in order to serve as depth following Zach Banner’s season-ending knee injury.
Hawkins, a 2016 draft choice, spent two of his first three seasons on injured reserve. After recovering from a torn quad, he was given the opportunity to compete for the starting right tackle job last Summer in a competition that also included Matt Feiler, Chukwuma Okorafor, and Banner.
He proved to be the odd man out, and the Steelers took advantage of that opportunity to trade him, sending him and a 2021 seventh-round pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 2021 sixth-round pick. Not much, but better than nothing for a player who was not going to make the team.
Tampa Bay did not re-sign him after the season, however, and he remained a free agent until the Texans brought him in on August 10 in training camp. While he did not make the 53, he was re-signed to the practice squad, until the Steelers picked him up.
Now after a little more than a year away from the team, Randy Fichtner and the Steelers are pleased to see him around again, the offensive coordinator saying that “it’s neat to have Hawk back”, via a transcript of his interview with the media earlier today.
“He’s been in the system; he was in the system before”, he went on. “We used him in some of our big packages in the past. It’s just unique to have him back. It’s funny, as soon as he walked in the building, I got a big grin, and he looked at me and said, “Coach, we still have, blank, blank and blank?”. I said, “still got it”. He said, “okay, I’m good”. It’ll be exciting to move forward there”.
Hawkins’ only regular season action with the Steelers came in 2017, logging 48 snaps over the course of the year as the tackle-eligible, a role that would go to Okorafor in 2018, and then Banner in 2019. Now that he is back, Banner is on IR, and Okorafor is starting, it’s reasonable to assume he will be worked back into that role again, while serving as the swing tackle.
Originally declaring out of LSU as an underclassman, Hawkins came out of school with a lot of talent, but has had his career set back by injuries, going back to his college days. He had a particularly difficult road back from his latest injury in 2018, and looked rough during training camp before being traded.
Will he have gotten back to where he was before the injury by now? Hopefully the Steelers won’t have to find out except in a practice setting. Provided that the interior line gets healthy, I would presume that Feiler would move outside to guard if one of their starting tackles were to go down injured.