Steelers OT Jerald Hawkins moving past losing 2 seasons to injury
Spring can’t get here fast enough for Jerald Hawkins. He is certain his torn quadriceps injury will be fully healed in time for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ organized team activities that take place between late April and early June.
“Oh yeah, most definitely,” the affable offensive tackle said just after the season ended. “I was ready now, man.”
Hawkins let out one of his hearty laughs.
“I would go out there right now, and I could. I am definitely, 100 percent, going to be going all over it (at OTAs).”
Hawkins arrived at a contract year seemingly in a flash. A fourth-round pick in 2016, he has lost two of his first three seasons to injury. He has played in five regular-season and five preseason games over his three NFL campaigns.
He has had only about three weeks of training-camp practices outside of a 2017 season in which he stayed healthy. As such, his injuries (a shoulder tear in August 2016, the torn quad during OTAs in May of last year) has clouded his future with the Steelers and in the NFL.
“It was tough at the beginning, very tough,” Hawkins said of dealing with this most recent injury and knowing another full season was lost. “I had been doing so well with the guys.
“But it got better. Just staying around the team, it got better each week. We had our ups and downs as a team as a whole, but other than that it was a pretty good year. Very humbling, but it was good.”
Hawkins probably doesn’t know who Bob Prince was, but he seems to share the “hidden vigorish” theory of the late Pittsburgh Pirates broadcaster. He believes his time injured and away from the game is past him, that there will be something of a regression to the mean.
“Honestly, man, this probably had to be my third injury I have had to actually sit out from playing football, so I believe it’s probably done with,” Hawkins said. “It’s all out of the way. Three times and you’re done now, man. Had a little bad injury in college, and I had my two in the league so I pray I am done with that and I can just finally get on the field and honestly show them what I am all about.”
At 6-foot-6, 305 pounds and with quick feet after a standout high school basketball career, Hawkins at one point was viewed as the likely successor to Marcus Gilbert at right tackle.
After missing so much time, though, Hawkins is one of a crowded group jockeying for position on the depth chart. The Steelers took Chuks Okorafor in the third round of last year’s draft, and Matt Feiler filled in admirably for 10 games last season when Gilbert was out because of a knee injury. The Steelers also kept Zach Banner on their 53-man roster all season.
“You want to see that competition, and you want to see that depth on your team,” Hawkins said. “If you’re here, there’s a reason for it.”
But Hawkins’ future with the Steelers is far from assured. And even if he proves himself worthy in 2019, there’s still the matter of working out a new contract.
For his part, Hawkins never left the team last season while he was on injured reserve. He was a regular at seemingly every practice, his large size and even larger voice and presence ubiquitous around the team.
A Louisiana native, Hawkins also pledged to stay in Pittsburgh throughout the offseason in order to best prepare himself for the upcoming season.
“I mean, I might go back to Baton Rouge for Mardi Gras and this and that, if you know what I’m saying,” he said with a laugh. “But other than that, the majority of time will be up here.”
Absent physical reps (even in practice) most of his NFL career, Hawkins at least made sure to glean as much as he could from mental reps during games and practices.
That way, even if he’s squeezed out of Pittsburgh in 2020, Hawkins has plenty to carry with him.
“There’s always something mental to take from anything,” Hawkins said. “Just looking at someone else’s plays or reps, all the O-line guys to the defense guys, just as a team-wise, just looking at the things that went on, you just learn from them and not (allow mistakes) to happen again.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .