PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The Steelers had plans to readjust the depth on their offensive line before next season. Part of that readjustment was the emergence of second-year tackle Jerald Hawkins as a top backup, but that may now be in jeopardy after Hawkins left practice Wednesday with a leg injury.
The loss of Hawkins is even more pronounced since Chris Hubbard signed a free agent contract with the Cleveland Browns for $37.5 million over five years. That means rookie Chukwuma Okorafor will now be called upon to fill that role.
“It’s a crappy thing about this sport,” backup quarterback Landry Jones said. “There’s no other sport that injury is a part of the game. You’re going to get at some point. It’s a violent game, but during this period we shouldn’t have guys go down.”
This is the second consecutive year Hawkins has suffered an injury in the preseason. Last season, Hawkins injured his shoulder in training camp and was placed on injured reserve after efforts to rehabilitate were unsuccessful. He missed the entire 2017 season.
Hawkins’ teammates on the offensive line say he was making big strides in his development and expressed their frustration at another injury that may cause him to miss significant time.
“We were just talking about how well ‘Hawk’ was playing,” starting right guard David DeCastro said. “Football is a brutal game. You just feel for him, and you feel for this team.”
Okorafor, a 6-foot-6-inch, 320-pound tackle from Western Michigan who can play both on the left and right sides, was selected in the third round of this year’s draft with the 92nd overall pick.
“Obviously, ‘Chuks’ has got a big role to fill,” DeCastro said. “He’s got a good group and a good coach, and we’ll do our best to get him ready.”
Other offensive tackles who are competing for a roster spot are Duquesne University alum Larson Graham, Joseph Cheek, Jake Rodgers and Matt Feiler.