Our Ron Lippock talked with Steelers tackle Jerald Hawkins. A 2016 4th round pick out of LSU, Hawkins missed the entire 2018 season with a torn quad.
First, how has the offseason and OTA’s gone for you post-injury?
The off-season has gone well. I’m pretty excited to be back to football activities. I’m honestly still in shape even after a year off, believe it or not, and working with one good leg. I’m trusting my leg again and feeling good.
Anything specific you’re working on to claim that right tackle spot?
Honestly, I’m just keeping on doing what I’ve been doing since I got to the point that I started there. I haven’t had the best of luck with injuries but I’m good now. I know my work ethic is good and I’m excited to compete again for the starting job.
How hard was it getting to the point of being a starter then suffering the injury? How do you approach that mentally and emotionally?
It was really hard – but I had great teammates and the Steelers’ organization was great – it kept me sane. Anybody who’s had injuries can speak to the ups and downs you experience. You can feel useless – like you’re not a part of things. But the Steelers coaches and players kept me involved – made sure I was a part of things. They always made sure I was up there watching film with everyone and with the guys learning the playbook.
It’s a veteran line and you’re still a younger guy on the line. Who are the guys that help mentor you on and off the field?
All of the guys – Pouncey, Al, BJ, Matt – they all play a part and share with each other and help each other out. It’s a brotherhood. A close-knit family, like Coach Tomlin says. They’ve been great in sharing their knowledge and experience with me. No one’s holding back information from each other. They’ve been great about helping me every step of the way.
How has the change from Munchak to Sarrett been affecting things so far? Will Munchak’s leaving have a big long-term effect, do you think?
Man, losing Munchak is still a big thing. That’s a Hall of Fame, gold-jacket guy. Just his presence alone in the locker room is major. But, Coach Sarrett is a good coach and knows how to push us to excel too. There’s a standard we all have to meet and Coach Sarrett can help us maintain that standard and push us in the right direction. He’s been here and knows how we do things.
And it’s still a three-way competition there at tackle – so how do you remain competitive yet help each other out still?
All of us in the room are competitors. We all hate to lose. That just makes the room better. We all hold ourselves to a higher standard. But we all still help each other out. We don’t hold things backs from one another- we don’t hold information back. We help each other out – that’s part of our job too.
We all have great chemistry. We all help each other and all of us have our hand in the pile to make sure we have a great season. We stay close-knit and all want a great season.
Did you hear Tomlin make it a point to mention you when speaking of the competition at right tackle? What does that mean to you?
I didn’t know that – but it’s an honor that he believes in my ability and the things I’ve shown I can do. He keeps things competitive and positive – you have to respect that. It’s an honor he feels positive about me as well.
Any fun experiences that stand out most to you so far?
It has to be when we played Baltimore at home. Alan went down with an injury and I went into the huddle. Everyone was calm – guys were joking. Ramon looked over at me and said “Oh snap! Look who it is – Hawk is in the game!” It was just so funny the way he said it and how everyone reacted.
On a different note – have you paid attention at all to the rest of the division and the moves they’ve made?
We’re just focusing on us – we’re not looking at what anyone else is doing. What they are doing doesn’t matter. We just need to worry about us and focus on what we can control and do.
And lastly, as a veteran now of two-plus years, how do you adjust to the role of mentoring guys also looking to take your job someday?
I remember when I got here that others helped me. That was the point- no one kept that knowledge to themselves. You have to share it. No one hid any of it from me – and now I wouldn’t hide it from anyone else either. That’s one of the good things about being here – sharing that knowledge with each other. It’s made me a better player – and a better person.