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Jerald Hawkins ‘Embracing the Suck’ in Return from Injury



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.”


Steelers Can Practice, Play in ‘Yellow’ and ‘Green’ Phases



Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who recently voiced his concerns over not getting practice time, especially with rookies, may be getting his wish.

This afternoon, Governor Tom Wolf released a proposal that would allow professional sports teams to practice or play in the “yellow” and “green” phases without “on-site or venue spectators” as long as they have a coronavirus safety plan.

Before the Steelers can get to work, the plan must first be approved by the state Health Department and include testing or screening and monitoring of all players and personnel.

In this plan, no fans or spectators would be permitted on interior or exterior venue property.

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Can Minkah Fitzpatrick Win Defensive Player of the Year?



Can Steelers All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick win NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2020?

It’s a loaded question. Of course, in theory, any defensive player in the league is eligible for the award. And Fitzpatrick is coming off an exemplary 2019 season.

The Alabama product had five interceptions, a forced fumble, two defensive touchdowns and 57 tackles in 14 games with the Steelers after coming over from the Dolphins for a 1st round pick.

Despite the protestations of CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco, Minkah Fitzpatrick is one of the best players in the league and should be one of the stars of a Steelers defense that should challenge for the top spot in the NFL this season.

In an interview with 93.7 The Fan this morning, NBC Sports’ Peter King labeled Fitzpatrick as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. King makes the case that with a full year to learn the Steelers system under belt, Fitzpatrick will be even better than he was in 2019, saying “With a year knowing this system and especially a system that features the safety so much, he’s not going to be good, I think he’ll be great this year.”

Fitzpatrick certainly has the talent, and if he can repeat his numbers from 2019, the stats to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He’s currently listed as one of the favorites by William Hill, sitting at 40/1 odds, behind teammate T.J. Watt and a handful of others. But one thing beyond his control may have the final say, and that’s history. Only five safeties have ever won the award since it was first handed out in 1971.

You may recognize one of the winners, Troy Polamalu, who won the award in 2010 had seven interceptions, 11 passes defensed, a touchdown, one forced fumble and 63 tackles in 14 games while leading the number one ranked Steelers defense back to the Super Bowl. He’s the most recent safety to take home the award. Before him were Bob Sanders in 2007, Ed Reed in 2004, Kenny Easley in 1984 and Dick Anderson in 1973 (who was sandwiched between two Joe Greene DPOY awards). Sanders put up linebacker-esque numbers with 97 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two picks and six passes defensed, leading a top ranked scoring and third overall Colts defense in 2007. Before Sanders, Ed Reed was the first safety winner in 30 years, taking home the award in 2004 after leading the league in picks with nine and adding three forced fumbles, two sacks, 17 passes defensed and 78 tackles. 1984 winner Kenny Easley played in an era before tackles or passes defensed were official stats, but managed to lead the league in interceptions and defensive touchdowns with 10 and two, respectively.

In the history of the award, it has gone to linebackers 16 times, a defensive end 13 times, nine times to defensive tackles, six to cornerbacks and only five times has it been awarded to safeties.

In other words, you need to have a monster season as a safety to win the award. Fitzpatrick certainly proved he can put up gaudy numbers, but he’ll have to outshine fellow defensive stalwarts and teammates Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt, as well as beat out stars like Aaron Donald and last year’s winner Stephon Gilmore to take home the win.

Can Fitzpatrick win the award? Absolutely. Will he? History isn’t on his side. But if he can put up the same kind of numbers across a full season for the Steelers in 2020, the voters will have to be on notice. Expect him to make a strong case.

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Film Study: Kevin Dotson Has Starting Upside



The Steelers were going to address the offensive line at some point in the 2020 NFL Draft. Whether that be in the early portion of the draft or the mid-rounds, they were going to do it at some point. Thus, they did in the fourth round as they selected combine snub and lifelong Steelers fan Kevin Dotson.

As one of the best offensive lineman in the Sun Belt, lots of draftniks were hot on Dotson’s trail and were fans of him. It was a pick that makes a lot of sense with the Steelers’ offensive lineman types, especially on the interior at guard. Dotson is a mauler. He is nasty and brutal to his opponents. There is no denying what he does upfront on the offense. The question is how well does he do it? Can he start?


What stands out about Dotson’s tape immediately is that this is a guy who is strong and moves people of their spot with his strength. His upper body strength in particular is great.

A play that showcases that strength is this play against Appalachian State. The net gain of this play is not in Dotson’s favor, but his individual effort on this play is really strong. He moves the end right off his spot with well-placed hands and a ton of power in his upper body. As he engages the end, he comes in low and wins the leverage battle, which gives him the hand placement and the ability to drive through the defender’s chest. That is how he got this movement and opened up the edge.

It all comes from the aggressive mentality that was instilled with Dotson. This is a twist and Dotson was having absolutely none of it. Dotson’s hands are heavy and with those strong punches, it allows him to stun pass rushers on twists and even head up. Plays like this are just one representation of that mentality that he carries around. With smooth footwork to mirror the twist, Dotson allows the quick pass to be executed and shows a little nastiness in the process.

One of the main concerns for Dotson coming out was his athleticism and this his ability to climb to the second level. Listen, he might not be the most flexible guy or even the greatest athlete out there, but this is a pretty smooth rep from Dotson. His feet are quick and efficient with no false steps and he does a great job of framing his blocks and engaging with second-level defenders. That means he can work in a zone running scheme just as well as he can in a gap running scheme. With the Steelers moving to a more hybrid running scheme approach, that versatility is really nice to have. A caveat with Dotson is that there are some grip strength issues. He can get his hands inside and then lose his assignment a little too early, but all in all this is a nice rep.

As a guy who needs to execute a pull or a wham block, expect Dotson to be up to the task. This is a great rep. From the release off the line with that smooth footwork to how he engages this block and makes a really strong block on a good linebacker in Dylan Moses, Dotson shows out on this play. He engages this block with a low pad level and puts his hands right inside the chest plate of Moses. That seals off the middle and allows this run to break free for a good gain. This is an NFL level rep here.

The other key in pass protection for Dotoson is if he is asked to take a guy on one-on-one without help, can he be trusted? The answer is absolutely. It comes back to his strong hands, leverage, and smooth footwork to mirror pass rushers who try to break free. With a strong anchor and good balance as well, Dotson can handle strong bull rushers that come his way and stay on his feet and divert them. On this rep above he does a great job of getting his hands inside and as the pass rusher tries to knock his hands off, he resets them and keeps the defensive tackle locked up. Really good rep to defend against potential counters as well.


There really is not a lot of opportunities this year for Dotson unless he just wows that coaching staff. The shortened offseason program in addition to the addition of Stefen Wisniewski, who is no slouch in his own right, is going to make Dotson a guy who will have a hard time starting this year.

Instead, he is going to get a year to be a strong depth guy at guard. His brother is teaching him center as well, so that can add to his versatility and value on the offensive line. However, after 2020, all bets are off on this guy. Dotson has all the tools to be an NFL starter and it would not shock me if he is the starter at left guard in 2021 when everything is all said and done. He has that potential.



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