UNITY TWP, Pa. — Jerald Hawkins’ first three years in the NFL haven’t exactly gone according to plan.
Hawkins, a fourth-round, project pick out of LSU in 2016, spent two of his first three seasons on the Steelers’ reserve/injured list. A torn labrum in his first preseason cost him his entire rookie year, and after showing progression under Mike Munchak’s tutelage in 2017, the 6-foot-6 tackle suffered a torn quad in 2018 OTAs that placed him on the IR. Again.
“It halted (the progression) for a good minute,” Hawkins said on Tuesday. “All the older guys, they seen it, too, before I got hurt. I was making that jump, that leap.”
Hawkins was even deemed a potential Chris Hubbard-like swing tackle whom the Steelers could plug in and play at a moment’s notice when injuries to starters arose. But now, the series of setbacks coupled with increased competition within a deep offensive line unit, Hawkins – entering the final year of his rookie deal – could be left off the team’s 53-man roster in a few weeks.
“Things happen, man,” he said. “God has his own timing.”
Hawkins weathered a rough start to training camp in his first football action in 19 months, where he was noticeably uncomfortable while struggling to protect the edge against the likes of T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree and Ola Adeniyi in 1-on-1s. But again, a seamless return after nearly two years out of pads shouldn’t have been expected in his particular situation.
“These days are hard,” Hawkins said. “You’re going against guys, from Cam [Heyward] to Bud and Ola — the whole defense. Everybody’s great. They help me challenge myself every day because they know what I’m coming off of, and they calling me like, ‘OK Hawk, I’m working on your post, I’m working on your bull, I’m working on your anchor.’ I just love how those guys keep me focused and stable.”
The transition back into football shape has been physically demanding, Hawkins said, but the mental and emotional obstacles were roadblocks he’s been forced to overcome, as well. Hawkins comes from a military family with two older brothers in the Army. Both relayed a mantra for Hawkins to abide by as he continues to claw his way back.
‘Embrace the suck.’
“That’s something I’ve learned,” Hawkins told me. “They’ve reminded me to always embrace the suck. You’re going to have some bad times and you just have to keep pushing. It’s only temporary. Only you can make yourself better. When you have obstacles, you’ve got to keep pushing.”
Hawkins has made small steps in recent days, enough to catch the eye of Craig Wolfley late last week. But it might not be enough. This season, depth is perhaps the the greatest strength of the Steelers’ offensive line. Matt Feiler appears to have the starting right tackle position locked up, with 2018 third-round pick Chukwuma Okorafor serving as the primary backup at both tackle spots during camp. When veteran Ramon Foster has been rested during camp, the Steelers moved Feiler inside to left guard and subbed in Okorafor at first-team right tackle – giving the impression that Hawkins is currently on the outside looking in at a roster spot.
A solid performance during the preseason could change that, though. With four games coming up, the first of which on Friday night against Tampa Bay, the cards are in Hawkins’ hands to change his fortune.
“It’s always motivation, especially when you know what you’re capable of and you know what you have,” Hawkins said. “You’ve just have to keep moving forward and show everybody else that you’re capable of doing things. Keeping it consistent. That’s the main key. You can flash it here and there, but now it’s a part of playing a consistent role. If I keep doing that, I’ll feel pretty good about it.”
Poll: Would You Attend a Steelers Game if Fans Are Allowed?
The Steelers hope to have fans back in the stands at Heinz Field at some point in the month of October, with team president Art Rooney II saying on Sunday that he feels “it’s time.”
There are obviously still concerns with COVID-19 transmission, as evidenced by the Tennessee Titans shutting down their practices on Tuesday with eight positive COVID-19 tests.
If the team can get government approval, would you as a fan feel comfortable attending a game?
Titans Shut Down Practice after Multiple Positive COVID-19 Tests
The Tennessee Titans have shut down their practices this week after multiple positive COVID-19 tests within the organization, the team announced on Tuesday in advance of their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers scheduled for this Sunday in Nashville.
The Titans had three new player positives and five new staff positives on Tuesday, and both the Titans, and their opponents from Sunday the Minnesota Vikings, have shut down practices for the week, according to a report by Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.
The #Titans had three new player positives and five new personnel positives for COVID-19, sources tell me and @MikeGarafolo. Both Titans and Vikings, who hosted them Sunday, will suspend in person club activities starting today.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) September 29, 2020
“Out of an abundance of caution, the organization has decided to work remotely today as we follow NFL protocols related to the COVID-19 virus,” the Titans said in a statement to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. “Several tests have come back positive and we are working through the process of confirming them. We will have more information [Wednesday].”
After multiple positive COVID tests in their organization , the Titans are halting in-person work today and made this announcement: pic.twitter.com/2LDjIBgyor
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 29, 2020
According to a report ESPN’s Dianna Russini, the NFL is shutting down the Titans’ entire week of practice until Saturday, which would obviously put the status of Sunday’s game in jeopardy.
A league source just texted me: "We are shutting Tennessee down until Saturday"
That means no Titans coaches or players can be in the building.
— Dianna Russini (@diannaESPN) September 29, 2020
Update, 10:31 a.m: The NFL and NFLPA released a joint statement later on Tuesday morning:
“On Tuesday morning, the Titans COVID testing results returned three new player positives and five new personnel positives. The Titans will suspend in-person club activities starting today. Likewise, the Vikings, who played the Titans on Sunday, will also suspend in-person club activities. Both clubs are working closely with the NFL and the NFLPA, including our infectious disease experts, to evaluate close contacts, perform additional testing and monitor developments. All decisions will be made with health and safety as our primary consideration. We will continue to share updates as more information becomes available.”
Update, 10:47 a.m: Kevin Seifert of ESPN has confirmed that the tests are not false positives.
Unfortunately, I can confirm, via a league source, that all of these COVID-19 tests have been CONFIRMED positive. The NFL has completed the protocol that would have determined if any were false positive. They weren't.
— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) September 29, 2020
Update, 11:43 a.m: The Steelers have postponed Mike Tomlin’s press conference, which was scheduled for noon.
Update, 11:50 a.m: Betting on the Steelers-Titans game has been taken off the board in several casinos, including Parx in Pennsylvania.
The betting market has certainly reacted to news of the Tennessee Titans' positive COVID tests:https://t.co/wD6PYXTuP8
— PJ Walsh (@PJWalsh24) September 29, 2020
Update, 11:57 a.m: Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten has released the following statement:
“We have been in contact with the NFL regarding the positive COVID-19 tests with the Tennessee Titans. We have been informed to proceed with our game preparations for Sunday’s game until we are informed otherwise.
“We will provide more information when it becomes available.”
Update, 12:01 p.m: Albert Breer of NFL Network is reporting that Titans outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen tested positive last week and is not one of the eight positive cases announced by the team on Tuesday.
Some more on the NFL's first COVID-19 outbreak.
• Titans OLB coach Shane Bowen tested positive late last week. His case is NOT one of 8 positives that came up today (5 personnel, 3 players).
• The positives came back this AM. Lab re-ran samples, all came up positive again.
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) September 29, 2020
Update, 1:32 p.m: Mike Garafalo of NFL Network is reporting that the Titans have been told to prepare as if this Sunday’s game is on, even. if it means not practicing until Saturday.
#Titans coaches have told players if they have to go without any work until Saturday, have a walkthrough then and play the #Steelers Sunday then that's what they'll have to do. No excuses. https://t.co/itr0rxkNWs
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) September 29, 2020
Stay with Steelers Now with more on this developing story.
Steelers LT Alejandro Villanueva Explains His Decision to Honor Alwyn Cashe
Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva explains why decided to honor deceased US Army sergeant Alwyn Cashe on his teammate instead of joining the rest of team in honoring police shooting victim Antwon Rose, Jr via Zoom with members of the media on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020.
The Steelers had previously announced that the entire team would be honoring Rose, but Villanueva decided to change his mind and honor Cashe. He spoke with Mike Tomlin about that decision, but team captains Cameron Heyward and Ben Roethlisberger said they were surprised by Villanueva’s decision.