J. Hevesham Nuttmeier / SCOUT

The Steelers' R4 draft pick appears to be a tackle in the making

The Steelers' rookie tackle is a project in the making but he's earning praise and respect. Jon Ledyard with the full Saturday practice report.

For a rookie, getting praise from veterans doesn’t happen very often, so the rare occasions are undoubtedly encouraging to the young men working hard to earn their place in the NFL. So when Cam Heyward compared rookie offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins to one of the better draft steals in recent Pittsburgh Steelers history, I took notice.

“He’s athletic and he’s got a good frame,” said Heyward. “He’s gonna learn a lot from Munch (OL Coach Mike Munchak) and those guys. He’s gotta develop that nasty side. He’s got long arms and tools that could make him a really good left tackle. I think of him as almost a taller (Kelvin) Beachum, but to say you're Beachum, that’s a hell of a statement. I’m not saying he’s there, but he’s got tools that could wind up being like that.”

Hawkins, who always has a smile on his face, laughed loudly when he heard of Heyward’s praise.

“I haven’t watched Beachum that much,” said Hawkins. “I just feel like I’m playing my game, playing how I feel comfortable. I usually watch big (Andrew) Whitworth and (Joe) Staley, but that’s about it. I really try to find my own game, make my own way.”

If becoming as successful as players like Beachum, Whitworth and Staley is the goal, Hawkins obviously has work to do, but the rookie is off to a great start in his first training camp. Hawkins has stood out during 1v1s, and while he hasn’t won every rep, he's been impressive with his quick feet and patience as a blocker.

Watching his tape at LSU during the pre-draft process, I felt the big tackle had a lot to learn technically before he was ready for the throes of the NFL, especially in his footwork and posture as a pass protector. An injury may have helped create some of that bad tape for Hawkins, however, as the lineman was physically limited while playing.

“I had a high ankle sprain my last year at LSU,” he said. “Tore plantar fasciitis so it kinda slowed me down. I couldn’t really plant, couldn’t really turn up like I wanted to, but I’m healthy now. I feel great, I feel like I’m flying around now.”

Versatility is a quality the Steelers have valued in their backup offensive linemen over the past few years, and Hawkins’ experience on both sides of the line should help him to develop into a quality swing tackle early in his career.

“Playing both sides has helped me a lot, honestly,” said Hawkins. “Switching both ways on different series, honestly the biggest difference is just in the stance. I feel comfortable on both edges though. I just need to be patient with my footwork and learn my assignments.”


- James Harrison, Donald Washington, Ramon Foster and Travis Feeney did not participate at all today. Feeney did some light work with a trainer off to the side, using his hands to ward off a simulated punch. Foster had a veteran's day off and was replaced by Cody Wallace.

- Landry Jones, Artie Burns and Markus Wheaton were limited. Burns did get a few reps returning kickoffs during special teams, and he was on the field for seven shots.

- Bud Dupree did positional drills, but nothing during 11v11.

- Very minimal contact today, as the players weren’t in pads after a physical practice at Latrobe high school last night.

- Very direct answer from Hawkins when I asked him who was the toughest draw for him in 1v1s.

“Chick,” he said of Anthony Chickillo. “He changes up a lot each day, from speed rush to bull rush to everything else. I like the variety though, it helps me out a lot.”

That trend continued today, as Chickillo ripped the edge on Hawkins for a “game-winning” sack against the second-team offense during two-minute drill. He’s had perhaps the best camp of any Steeler, but preseason games will be a true indicator of just how much the second-year pass rusher has improved from his rookie campaign.

- Montell Garner got first-team reps in the slot today, while Sean Davis worked mostly at safety with the second-team defense. With Washington and Burns sidelined, second-team corners for much of the day were Al-Hajj Shabazz, Doran Grant and Kevin White in the slot.

- White had a good heads-up play during seven shots, hustling to swat a would-be touchdown out of Sammie Coates’ hands after a little tip drill in the end zone.

- Shamarko Thomas continues to make plays against the run. During one 11v11 session, Thomas drifted from the backside against an outside zone run, blasting through the gap for a would-be tackle just as the runner cut inside.

- Watched Marcus Tucker a good bit during positional drills. Good routes, but his hands are a question mark. One drop, and another demonstrative bobble before securing a catch. He also made a mistake on special teams that caught Danny Smith’s ire, something that can’t happen for a young guy trying to make the team.

- A Ross Cockrell jam in seven shots ran Darrius Heyward-Bey to the sideline on a fade route, causing the pass to sail out of bounds untouched. Cockrell continues to play more physical near the line of scrimmage, something that is crucial to his development.

- New tight end Michael Cooper dropped a touchdown in seven shots, part of a rough day for he and Paul Lang, who had a couple drops scattered throughout practice

- Eli Rogers beat Lawrence Timmons twice on a deep cross, once for the “game-winning” touchdown on 3rd-and-10 with just a few seconds left during the first team offense’s two minute drill. Rogers is here to stay.

- I’ve been far more impressed with Alejandro Villanueva than Ryan Harris at left tackle. The latter struggles to stop inside counters, something that Jarvis Jones took advantage of for a clean win during the two-minute drill.

- It has been an uninspiring battle for the third-string quarterback job between Bruce Gradkowski and Dustin Vaughan. Gradkowski just might not have much left in his arm, but Vaughn has been a total wild card, freezing up constantly in the pocket and sailing passes every which way. I don’t think Gradkowski has anything to worry about, unless someone they like unexpectedly comes available.


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