Entering training camp there are a lot of names to watch. However, for the Pittsburgh Steelers, none have as much boom-bust potential as Jerald Hawkins. Hawkins comes into his second season with the Steelers as a complete unknown. The 6’5” tackle was drafted in the fourth round, mainly due to lack of fluidity in his movements. However, before he set foot on an NFL field his season was finished with a shoulder injury. Hawkins appears to be healthy now and has been full go in OTAs and minicamps. What does Hawkins provide and will he make the 2017 roster?
Expectations For Jerald Hawkins in Year Two
There is definitely a reason Hawkins fell to the mid rounds. There is also a reason he was drafted at all. That is his arms and height. He is the right threshold when it comes to his physical profile, and could even stand to add a little muscle.
However, the issues come in how he moves. He is not a quick or agile mover. Speed rushers would likely have their way with him in the NFL. He lacks any explosion and has relied on winning with strength. That has worked for a simplistic offense at LSU that is dominated by running the football with five-star recruits behind him. In the NFL, he is a long way away from being a starter when it comes to his fundamentals, especially in defending the quarterback.
Mike Munchak Effect
At the same time, it is impossible to knock what Mike Munchak does, especially when it comes to tackles. When Munchak was hired in 2014, the Steelers did not have a left tackle. Mike Adams was considered a complete bust, and Kelvin Beachum came into training camp as the projected starter after 12 starts in 2013. Beachum was a seventh round pick, and for a good reason. He had a guard’s body but had a tackles skill set. Still, Munchak worked and groomed him over the course of the season. Beachum started all 16 games in 2014 before tearing his ACL early into 2015. Despite the torn ACL and less than two full seasons of experience at tackle, Beachum still got a five-year, $45 million deal that offseason. Thanks, Mike.
To replace Beachum? An ex-Army Ranger who played tight end and defensive line before converting to left tackle in Alejandro Villanueva. The experiment has now worked for over a season and a half, and the Steelers are beginning to talk extension with the ball of clay that Munchak molded into a talented asset. If Munchak can turn those two projects into talented left tackles, there is no telling what he can do with a player fit to play the position with on-field experience in hand.
The best part of Hawkins and his best case for sticking with the team is his versatility. As a redshirt freshman, Hawkins won the starting right tackle job at LSU. When his teammate La’el Collins went down with an injury, Hawkins made a start at left tackle. Hawkins played his entire redshirt sophomore season across from Collins at right tackle. However, when Collins made his way to the NFL, Hawkins slotted in at left tackle, filling in for his friend and teammate for 11 starts. Having 25 starts at right tackle and 12 starts at left tackle is key for a player who should see no immediate path to starting.
Hawkins should have every chance to make the team. He is still signed on for two more years after 2017 and looked like an interesting prospect in his early off-season workouts last year. This is a player who strived against the quality of the SEC and was a valued run blocker. There is no other coach that can make more out of him than the coach he has in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers, known for patience and development are going to be patient and develop Hawkins. Keep an eye on the development of Hawkins in training camp, as the Steelers certainly still have plans for his future.