Yes, James Stone stepped in as an undrafted free agent and did well. He started nine games - actually after Peter Konz got hurt replacing Hawley. Stone did well, and some have wondered if he would keep the job as the starting center.
Hawley says that's not happening.
"We’ve got a good relationship," Hawley said of Stone. "Him getting all those reps gives me confidence that I don’t have to rush back. But I’m pretty confident this is my job and I’m going to lead those guys out there."
Hawley's knee is sound. He's had no issues so far coming back from his injury.
Hawley said, "It feels good. I’m adding reps every day, trying to get the knee right. Get stronger and trying to get some confidence back with it. It’s been a long process, a slow process. It’s frustrating at times. But getting back on the field, it’s exciting. At this point, it’s just getting used to it. There’s always going to be a little pain in there. Just having some confidence on the bull rush and pushing off on the outside zone. That’s what I’m working on right now."
Hawley's experience will be crucial for an offensive line that is being asked to use a new system - the zone blocking scheme. He believes the process is going well so far.
"We’ve improved a lot since the spring," Hawley said. "When we first started, it was a little new with the outside zone, trying to get to the perimeter. We’ve adjusted well. It’s such a group effect as an offensive line. The way we’re running the offense is not a physical at you, it’s kind of to the side. It’s going to take some adjustments."
Stone has actually gotten some time at guard, particularly with Jon Asamoah out for part of the week. But the plan is to cross-train most of the linemen to make sure the coaching staff has plenty of options on the line of scrimmage.
"Versatility on the O-Line is one of the most important things," Hawley said. "There’s the starting five, and there’s only five only guys. Those guys need to be able to play multiple positions. They’re finding out who can do that now. They’re going to put the best five on the field. It’s a good thing to do it now. That way, in the middle of the season, when stuff happens, and to be able to fill guys in without missing a beat is huge.
"There’s a lot of new guys, so being able to plug and find out what guys play what position best with the new scheme… that’s what they’re doing now. They’re mixing and matching. It’s just going to make us better in the long run. That way if someone goes down, we can plug someone in and not miss a beat."
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