Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was back in his hometown over the weekend, but he isn’t the only person on the team that calls the area known as “Seven Cities” his home. Wide receiver Justin Hunter was born in Virginia Beach, just a few miles from where Tomlin grew up in Hampton, Virginia.
Returning home to host the Hampton Roads Youth Foundation Football Camp, Tomlin also spent some time talking to reporters about the upcoming season, but he wasn’t the only hometown hero the local media wanted to hear about. Mitch Brown of News 3 wanted to know how Hunter was looking heading into his second season with the Steelers and Tomlin had nothing but good things to say about him. As he told Brown.
“Justin and I have a great time talking about home quite a bit. I’ve been really excited about his growth and development. Last year he was about getting his feet wet and fitting in and understanding how he could help us and how his skill set might be an asset to us. I really think he sees the clear path for productivity for us this year in terms of how he could help us. I know that we are depending on him and expecting him to deliver in a big way.”
Many observers who have followed Hunter’s career since he entered the NFL in 2013 might suggest he’s been getting his feet wet for the last six years and is long overdue to deliver. Drafted in the second round by the Tennessee Titans, Hunter has never recorded more than 28 receptions or 500 yards receiving in a single season.
Regularly described as one of the standout receivers in training, regardless of the team he’s been with, Hunter has never been able to translate his practice performance into a productive gameday showing. His debut season in Pittsburgh saw Hunter record only four receptions for 23 yards and dress for only seven games.
With former deep-threat option Martavis Bryant now playing in Oakland, there’s clearly an opportunity for Hunter to get more involved in the offense. But the former University of Tennessee product has been given chances to shine before and he’s been found lacking. Hunter left college with question marks about his hands, and those same concerns remain heading into his seventh year in the league.
Ultimately, Hunter might not even make the Steelers final 53-man roster in 2018 if the team doesn’t carry more than five players at the position. Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington will be locks for the opening-day roster and Hunter will be in a battle with names like Darrius Heyward-Bey and Marcus Tucker for one of the last available spots.