By Matthew Marczi
While I wait for the blackout rules for prime time games to subside before I can review last night’s game with Preseason Live, I might as well address some other things. There were plenty of positives and negatives to take away from the preseason loss to the Washington Redskins, but one of the more noteworthy developments, I think, is the fact that rookie cornerback Terry Hawthorne was able to make the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Prior to the game, it was not clear that Hawthorne, who missed most of the spring practices and nearly all of training camp with a balky knee, was able to see his first action of his career.
This is great news for him, because it puts him in strong position to make a run at securing the fifth cornerback spot on the roster—or possibly a sixth, should the team elect to carry 10 defensive backs. They do traditionally carry 10; however, with quality depth and injury needs at other positions, the secondary may be one of the areas targeted at the final cut downs from which to pilfer a roster spot to use elsewhere.
A few years ago, rookie fourth-round pick Cortez Allen was injured throughout training camp. He was already considered a project coming in, having not played football long, and in college playing for The Citadel, which is a military, rather than football factory. However, he was finally able to suit up for the final preseason game and did well enough to earn his place on the roster, rather than apprenticing on the practice squad.
It seemed that Hawthorne, a rookie fifth-round pick who is also regarded—though less so—as somewhat of a project with respect to technique, could be on that path himself. The Steelers had DeMarcus Van Dyke, Josh Victorian, and Isaiah Green all ready to compete, and with Allen, Curtis Brown, and William Gay eating up all of the reps in front of him, he was likely to not even see the field much.
Of course, Van Dyke and Allen remain out with injuries and Brown also saw significant time on the sidelines. Victorian and Green, two height-challenged yet scrappy young cornerbacks, are not exactly lighting up the preseason. As long as Van Dyke stays sidelined, one would think that Hawthorne has an excellent opportunity to leapfrog his former undrafted free agent competition on the depth chart.
Of course, he left the game last night with some cramping, but fortunately cramping is easily overcome. As long as he has no setbacks with his knee, he should be able to stay healthy and compete from here on out.
As previously mentioned, I do not yet have access to review the game. However, according to Pro Football Focus, Hawthorne saw 10 snaps on defense before exiting the game, and they gave him a 0.6 overall grade, which is certainly not bad at all given the number of snaps.
Recovering a fumble certainly helped his cause, of course. However, he was not targeted in the passing game and made no tackles otherwise. He did play on special teams, and he did show the ability to get down the field in a hurry. On his one opportunity to make the tackle, however, he missed it. Hawthorne will have to show better than that in the last two preseason games, because a ninth or 10th defensive back is primarily a special teams player, if he dresses at all.
I expect to see Hawthorne get a lot of playing time in the preseason finale, as Cortez Allen did a few years back, when the starters hardly play at all and players who will be moving on to their life’s work in a matter of days see a good chunk of the action.
The third preseason game is the tune-up for the regular season, so I don’t expect to see much of him then, but he can certainly make his presence felt on special teams, and you have to think that the team would like to give him every opportunity to earn his spot.