Stashed away on injured reserve, it’s easy to forget about Jerald Hawkins, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fourth round pick.
But his teammates didn’t. And they helped push Hawkins during his rookie season, one that quickly ended with an August trip to injured reserve.
Steelers.com’s Teresa Varley caught up with him to discuss how tough it was to sit on the sidelines and rehab from his torn labrum.
“This is the longest I have ever gone without playing,” he told Varley. “I have had injuries and played through it, but this is the longest I have gone without playing. It took a toll I wasn’t expecting.”
Hawkins had a promising, and to some, surprising training camp, and was on track to make the team as a reserve tackle before the injury. At that point, it’s easy for teammates, ones who are healthy, to forget about him. They’re focused on practice, the gameplan, the season, while Hawkins’ focus turned to rest and rehab and working his way back. But he says the veteran Steelers’ offensive line constantly reached out to him and kept him engaged in meetings.
“They told me I was still a part of the team. Still part of the offensive line. I am thankful for those older guys. The whole room kept me intact.”
He also credited Mike Munchak for “coaching me like I was still playing,”
The Steelers’ line has gone from youthful to veteran, another benefit of the heavy, repeated investments they made at the start of the decade. Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Marcus Gilbert have gone from wide-eyed rookies to stable, consistent veterans who can empathize with what Hawkins is going through.
Pouncey, per the article, kept Hawkins’ spirits high and the two bonded over the rehab process, something Pouncey went through with a nasty knee injury. And Gilbert has basically spent his entire career with a cast or brace on something. Even DeCastro suffered a severe knee injury his rookie season.
Hawkins will return fully healthy for 2017 and has a good chance to make the 53 man roster. His main competition will be Ryan Harris though it’s certainly plausible both can make the roster. The Steelers probably have their nine offensive linemen already on the roster. The starting five, B.J. Finney, Chris Hubbard, Harris, and Hawkins. And maybe if Hawkins performs well enough, Harris becomes expendable.