The Pittsburgh Steelers are quite confident in their belief that they will not have any new positive Covid-19 tests from the four players that they had to put on the Reserve/Covid-19 List because the NFL determined that they were close contacts of tight end Vance McDonald who were at high risk of being exposed to the virus after he tested positive.
What is less clear is whether or not they will be comfortable dressing all four of those players against the Cincinnati Bengals after missing nearly all of the week of physical practice. It’s a no brainer that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and linebacker Vince Williams, a couple of grizzly veteran starters, will dress and play. It is less obvious that reserve tackle Jerald Hawkins and running back Jaylen Samuels will.
“Some of the others, we will make judgments based on how the week transpires ”, head coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday about the Sunday availability of Hawkins and Samuels. “Their lack of a résumé or experience could be a factor in determining whether or not we use those guys. That’s just the reality of it. We have a lot of decisions to make in this environment as a lot of people do”.
With Trey Edmunds having been called back up from the practice squad, there is a quite reasonable chance that Samuels actually does not dress, but Hawkins is the Steelers’ swing tackle and extra lineman, which will be even more important without McDonald, their primary blocking tight end, available for the game.
Offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett talked about the possibility of Hawkins being prepared to play on Sunday without having had that in-person practice experience outside of a Saturday walkthrough. “He’s in tune. It’s going to be a possibility”, he said.
“He’s got to be a professional. He’s got to be on top of things. He’s done a great job. He was in meetings this morning”, Sarrett went on. “He’s done a great job with all of that stuff. I have my full trust in him. It’s just the way this setting is going to be set up this year with the Covid and all of that. We just have to move forward because come Sunday, there’s not going to be any excuses in this stuff. The only thing people want to see is the results, the ending results, and that’s what we have to do. We have to go out and produce”.
It’s not even clear who the swing tackle would be if Hawkins were to not play, though I suppose it would be left guard Matt Feiler, who had 25 career starts at right tackle. They could plug Kevin Dotson in at guard in the event that that would happen, and I’m sure they worked on that scenario in practice.
I’m confident, however, that Hawkins will dress and play, and he will likely have an increased role because of McDonald’s absence. He has so far logged 46 snaps this season after he was signed in week two to fill the roster spot of Zach Banner after tearing his ACL.