At 27, Steelers DL Lavon Hooks works to avoid practice squad
He’s the most experienced inexperienced player on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster.
Because he has not appeared in a regular-season game or spent a day on the regular-season roster, Lavon Hooks is considered a first-year player.
Funny, because four prior NFL training camps and 15 preseason games suggest he’s anything but that.
Hooks will be closer to 28 years old than 27 by the time he reports to Saint Vincent for the fourth time July 25. His SEC background (two seasons at Ole Miss) and size (6-foot-3, 310 pounds) are NFL-caliber.
But four consecutive years, when it’s come to cut-down day the first Sunday in September, Hooks has been an odd man out.
There’s reason to believe this time will be different.
“It’s a weird spot,” Hooks said after a minicamp session at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex last month, “but I still feel confident, very confident, this year as far as earning a spot on the team.
“And not just having to … I wouldn’t say ‘settle for’ … but be placed on a place … where I can’t show my talents.”
Hooks was reluctant to refer too directly to the scariest three words for a man in his position: “The practice squad.”
This will be DT Lavon Hooks’ fourth NFL training camp, his third with the Steelers, but he hasn’t appeared in a regular-season pro game https://t.co/RvrNaxG8NY
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By terms of the NFL collective bargaining agreement, Hooks potentially could spend this season on that developmental taxi squad. That would make him eligible to be a 28-year-old first-year player in 2020.
“It’s crazy,” Hooks said with an incredulous chuckle. “But I was I was out (of football during the NFL regular season) my first year (and in 2016), so I have only been on practice squad for two years. And you get three years (of practice-squad eligibility).”
After two full seasons immersed in the Steelers defense and four offseasons and training camps spent with the organization, Hooks is hoping to avoid the practice-squad route.
It’s not a bad living: more than $100,000 for four months of practicing football. But it pales in comparison to the $495,000 minimum salary for a player on the active roster.
“I am gonna keep pushing,” Hooks said. “I felt like I could have (contributed) last year after the preseason, but it was just the way things panned out. I gotta just keep grinding.”
Hooks had a sack in each of the Steelers’ final two preseason games last August. He’s right that he looked the part of an NFL defensive lineman.
The problem, though, was a numbers game. The Steelers have two Pro Bowl-caliber starting linemen (Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt), another quality starter (Javon Hargrave) and a very good veteran No. 4 (Tyson Alualu).
The Steelers like 352-pound Dan McCullers as a sub-package nose tackle, and last season was L.T. Walton’s final year under contract.
Hooks likes his teammates and, of course, doesn’t wish injury on anyone. But very good luck for the Steelers was bad luck for him: All six of the Steelers’ defensive linemen stayed healthy last season, negating the need for Hooks to be promoted from the practice squad.
“They’re not getting hurt because they have good work habits,” Hooks said, “which is what I have been following. I am just trying to fit into the mold of what they’ve been around here.”
Hooks has fit in, but he points out that might not be enough to join the active roster. Though Walton has moved on, the Steelers are excited about sixth-round pick Isaiah Buggs. They also have a healthy crop of first-year players in Greg Gilmore, Henry Mondeaux, Conor Sheehy, Winston Craig and Casey Sayles, each of whom is every bit as hungry as Hooks to make an impression.
“Lavon’s a good player. He obviously knows the defense, and he’s obviously got the ability,” said Alualu, whose locker stall is next to Hooks’ at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “We know he can play if we need him.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .