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Mike Munchak on rookie tackle Chukwuma Okorafor “we drafted that guy for a reason”

The Steelers took a shot on the Western Michigan tackle they hope will pay huge dividends in 2018.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers-Minicamp Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to life in the NFL, sometimes things change.

And for the Pittsburgh Steelers they experienced this first-hand this offseason when they watched Jerald Hawkins go down during Organized Team Activities (OTAs) with what turned out to be a torn quadriceps muscle, ending his season.

The plan was for Hawkins to take over Chris Hubbard’s role as the backup swing tackle, as well as the extra tackle in their “jumbo” packages.

Sometimes things change, and in this instance it meant a huge change of plans for rookie tackle Chukwuma “Chuks” Okorafor. The third round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft from Western Michigan was considered a project by most experts during the draft. After all, it was the first pick fans likely said, “Who?” when the name was announced on Day 2 of the draft.

However, don’t tell Mike Munchak the entire offensive line, and their overall plan, is going to fall apart due to the injury to Hawkins, combined with the departure of Hubbard.

“Chuks, we drafted that guy for that reason,” Munchak told Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last week. “Now the young guy gets a chance kind of like Al (Villanueva) a few years ago. And last year, Chris Hubbard got the opportunity with Marcus (Gilbert) out. We’ve got a lot of time to work with him. Right now, that’s our guy going forward.”

The team has faith in Okorafor, as they should, but it also should be pointed out Okorafor has been turning heads in his brief stint at the professional level. Leading up to the draft, the book on Okorafor was not his size, length, strength or ability, but his overall desire.

This from his NFL Draft Profile:

Okorafor’s size and potential will likely get him drafted earlier than where the tape says he should go. While he has plus physical traits, inconsistencies with balance and instincts could be a challenge to correct. He has the feet to handle speed rushers, but multi-move rushers could eat his lunch early on. Okorafor will need to play with much better consistency and toughness on the next level to become an average NFL starter.

Not a glowing endorsement for the rookie, but Okorafor isn’t worried about what others are saying. He can only control what he does every day when he shows up to work, and he realizes the team’s plan for him moving forward as the primary backup tackle.

“It kinda seems like it is going that way,” Okorafor said during last week’s minicamp. “My job is just to learn everything I can and then see what happens in the fall.”

For those who think the swing tackle spot on the team is nothing more than a backup role, think again. Munchak views the position as extremely valuable to the team, and the offense.

“It gets you in the game. You aren’t just standing on the sideline the whole game,” Munchak said. “Hubbard used to get 10 plays a game. It really helped their confidence when they had to play for real.”

But how did Okorafor do this offseason?

“He’s doing well. It’s a lot,” Munchak said. “It’s very competitive out here. We ask our tackles to do a lot of things. He’s done a nice job. He’s got a good demeanor for the game. He doesn’t get too emotional when things don’t go well.

“But so far, so good. The assignments are coming well to him. He’s getting used to communicating with the other guys.”

Sometimes plans change, and they certainly did for the Steelers, but as Munchak said — there is a reason they drafted Okorafor. Time for him to prove his worth.