Heading into 2019, there is perhaps no other position on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster with more depth and experience than offensive tackle. With both starters due to return and a number of promising young prospects with experience in reserve, the Steelers might well be set at tackle for some years to come.
However, if that future is to include 2016 fourth-round draft pick Jerald Hawkins, the upcoming season will need to end rather differently from him in 2019 than it did in two of his first three years in the NFL. Having missed both his rookie season and all of 2018 to injuries that saw him added to injured reserve each time, Hawkins faces something of a make or break year in his final season under contract.
Thankfully, the young tackle already appears to be fully healed from the torn quadriceps injury that ended his last season early, confirming with Chris Adamski of TribLive that he was completely recovered back in January.
“Oh yeah, most definitely, I was ready now, man. I would go out there right now, and I could. I am definitely, 100 percent, going to be going all over it (at OTAs).”
And while Hawkins has appeared in just five regular season games in three years in the NFL, he remains cautiously optimistic his injury issues are behind him.
“Honestly, man, this probably had to be my third injury I have had to actually sit out from playing football, so I believe it’s probably done with. It’s all out of the way. Three times and you’re done now, man. Had a little bad injury in college, and I had my two in the league so I pray I am done with that and I can just finally get on the field and honestly show them what I am all about.”
With names like Matt Feiler, Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner competing for a place on the game day roster behind starters Alejandro Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert, the quality of depth the Steelers have at the tackle position is not lost on Hawkins either.
“You want to see that competition, and you want to see that depth on your team. If you’re here, there’s a reason for it.”
By all accounts, Hawkins stayed as involved with the team as much as could throughout this injury, with Adamski reporting he was a regular fixture at every practice earlier in the season. But, if Hawkins hopes to still be with Pittsburgh in 2020, he will need to be able to do more than just watch practice this season.