Jerald Hawkins Says Veteran OL Helped Him Get Through Rookie Season

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.

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • TroymanianDevil

    Based on what we’re hearing about Hawkins, I’m thinking Ryan Harris will be a cap casualty

  • I have to disagree on the 9 being set for next year. There are a clear top 9 but 3 of the backups are best at tackle. Hubbard has worked some inside but it’s been ugly. Finney looked good at guard and sketchy at center- kind of small body of work still.

    I think there’s room for a guy to groom on the interior. I know the team likes swiss army knife guys and Hubbard is that but if he’s the 5th best OT on the team and the 4th best G, he should be pushed by somebody.

  • 20Stoney

    I think he can become a decent player, but with the advantage of hindsight, when I see him I always think we could have taken Dak Prescott with that pick.

  • Alex Kozora

    Finney is in no danger of being left off the roster. He’s already Foster’s replacement. We keep counting Hubbard out for the past three years and the guy keeps making the team. No rookie is going to offer that versatility so his job is probably safe. Sure, maybe Harris gets pushed off, maybe a UDFA makes noise, but it’s much more likely either Harris stays or Mihalik takes his spot.

  • CP72

    Yeah I wish we’d have taken Brady instead of Tee Martin as well.

  • 6 ring circus

    Don’t hurt my brain anymore with that thought.

  • Steelers12

    not neccessarily, Harris isn’t paid high and he can add veteran depth

  • Jason Vancil

    I cannot remember a time when the OLine was in such good shape from the starting 5 to quality depth. Has to be back pre-Tomlin since I felt this good about the talent up front.

  • TroymanianDevil

    It’s a decent amount for a backup, clearing 1.9mil makes him a very possible casualty. If they believe in Hawkins, Finney and Hubbard, they can add someone for much cheaper. And I understand that he’s not necessarily going to be cut, that’s just what I’m predicting.

  • VaDave

    From what I saw of Harris in his limited time , I think I rather go for youthful exuberance, as opposed to veteran depth. Besides, as he proved, Hubbard can give you snaps at Tackle.

  • VaDave

    Alex, I wouldn’t be surprised if Finney doesn’t give Foster a run for his money at camp. As for his brief stint at center. Growing pains. Give him some time to work on it, he will do just fine.

  • VaDave

    Yes, we could have, but we weren’t in the market for a QB to sit on the bench for the next 2 years or so. We were looking for OL depth. Egads, even with hindsight, surely you can’t be upset with the 2016 draft?

  • Klacker1

    I went back and looked at the research on him from last year. Some had him as a 2nd round pick, but multiple comments about him being able to play either tackle spot (one also mentioned his “natural left tackle feet”, whatever that means). He’s only 23 and his athleticism was also mentioned multiple times. The reason I am bring this all up is because there were a couple mentions of the possibility of him kicking inside to guard. I think I remember that being mentioned AFTER he was drafted as well. If the Tackle/Gurd thing works out, that moves the backup scenario from BJ (G, maybe C), 2 OTs and Hubbard as a OT and G/C army knife to a more balanced couple of Guards, couple of Tackles with a C or two possible. If the athleticism works out and Munchak nails these guys, both Finney and Hawkins coud be lined up to compete for Ramon’s spot. Anyway you cut it, it’s a nice situation.

  • VaDave

    You may have to go back to the early Cowher days when Kent Stephenson was coaching the OL.

  • dany

    More like a camp casualty. No reason to release him till they know everyone survives preseason and camp healthy. Which sucks for him but that’s the way it goes

  • 20Stoney

    Absolutely!

  • Rocksolid20

    And we could have kept Johnny Unites too. So lets not get carried away with hindsight .

  • 20Stoney

    Nope, nowhere did I say I was upset with that draft. I said I will always think of Prescott when I see Hawkins. And if you remember the Steelers were well connected to him before the draft, so we must have been somewhat in the market.

  • LucasY59

    yes they should keep him through camp (both for injury insurance and to make Hawkins win the spot instead of it being given to him) but releasing Harris before the season starts also clears cap space, so both are accurate descriptions

  • LucasY59

    Hubbard played more snaps than Harris last yr, and Mihalik was on the roster longer than Ryan as well, so I look at as he is on the outside looking in, and Harris has to play so well they are forced to keep him (or maybe trade him away?)

    cutting Harris and Moats gives them the 3 million cushion they like to have going into the season, so IF they get up close to the cap limit, I think it is very likely they let the veteran DEPTH players go (and should have good younger depth to develop instead)

  • TroymanianDevil

    Haha semantics. I didn’t mean release him now to get under the cap, that’s clearly not a problem this year. All I meant was the reason for his release would be his cap hit, not b/c he sucks

  • VaDave

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to come across as accusatory. I hear you. Since you brought it up, after Ben retires every time I see Hawkins I’ll be thinking the same thing. LOL!

  • TroymanianDevil

    Exactly, better value can be had, and that’s how I always look at contracts. Not just pure production ( see Von Miller for an example, great production but for his price, not great value ).

    Also, actually clears over 4mil. As much as I love Moats, saving 2.2 mil might be hard to ignore.

  • Conserv_58

    Or drafted Pitt native, Dan Marino.

  • Conserv_58

    From what I saw of Finney in training camp he certainly could give Foster a run for his money. Now that he’s got 2016 under his belt, Finney is that much better.

    Mihalik is as big as A.V., is, 6’9″, but from what I saw of him in camp he was not looking good. He has really slow feet. I was surprised he made the team.

  • Conserv_58

    I’m not sold on Harris, even if he is a veteran. Besides, there is enough excellent veteran experience along the OL to help bring along the young guys. I don’t see Harris making the final 53 because they don’t need him.

  • Conserv_58

    Wow! Talk about revisionist history. That’s a name I haven’t thought of since those years.

  • VaDave

    LOL!! . Ron Erhardt was running his smash mouth offense at the time, Stephenson was coaching up players like Dawson, Love, Strelzyck/ Tylski, Jackson, & Searcey.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    if we can get palf elflein in maybe the 3rd or 4th round then we will have a backup for every offensive position. o line and role players.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    hubbard cant play tackle for crap.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    i was at all but final 2 practices last year at camp.finney was on fire.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    id rather limas sweed play tackle than hubbard. hubbard is awful at it. he only did better as an extra tight end blocking.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    they arent cutting moats. not gonna happen.

  • VaDave

    He did surprisingly well in the, what was it, three games Gilbert was out at the beginning of the year. Not saying he was all world or anything, but he showed up much better than Harris did.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    thats like saying. johnny manziel played better than tim couch.

  • LucasY59

    hes the highest paid OLB on the team, and wasnt getting ANY snaps at the end of the season (not even STs, so Chickillo has pretty much already beaten him out) so I think there is a VERY good chance its gonna happen (especially if they re-sign Harrison)

  • Dshoff

    Before this year I was SCARED to DEATH when Hubbard would have to come in at tackle. But this year he did very well and surprised the heck out of me.

  • Dshoff

    The way Finney played at guard this year was amazing. If Foster didn’t do so well, I would think that Finney might be pushing him for the starting job next year.