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Steelers notebook with look at expanding roles for three players

The first practice following a preseason game is always a time for role shifts and here are three whose stocks are rising

LATROBE -- In only 15 defensive snaps on Friday, rookie Javon Hargrave showed he could get off the ball quickly, hold the point and slide down the line fluidly and nimbly as either a nose tackle in the Pittsburgh Steelers' "Okie" or as a defensive tackle in their nickel.

Is the third-round pick beginning to wonder whether he's starter-capable on opening day?

"Of course I'm thinking about it," said Hargrave. "But at the end of the day I'm just trying to get better, work on my craft and just perfect it."

That's been Hargrave's motto since being drafted out of South Carolina State. If he works hard, things will fall into place. Like they did on his first snap of the second quarter Friday night.

Hargrave had subbed in as a nose tackle on the previous series briefly, but after Doran Grant's interception return for a touchdown, Hargrave and Ricardo Mathews joined L.T. Walton on the front line of the 3-4 Okie. Detroit quarterback Dan Orlovsky handed the ball to Zach Zenner as Hargrave burst past the center. He had to reach back to grab Zenner by the hips and stop him for no gain.

"That was that moment of getting those nerves out the way, just hitting something," said Hargrave. "After that I felt good the whole way through."

Hargrave didn't make any more tackles, but he showed everything -- except the massive girth -- the team has wanted to see from the game's starter, Daniel McCullers.

"I think I did pretty good, made the plays I should've made," Harvrave said. "There's still some stuff I need to work on and get better."

What was the feedback from DL Coach John Mitchell?

"He tells me I did some good things," Hargrave said, pausing, "and also some bad things. Overall, it was a good day and I feel like I got better."


Rookie Jerald Hawkins, who looked so good at offensive tackle against the Lions, and who was so happy after the game, injured his shoulder during the game and Mike Tomlin said after Monday's practice that it's "going to be evaluated."

Hawkins, the fourth-round draft pick and apparent No. 4 tackle in the team pecking order, hurt his right shoulder during one-on-one drills in last Tuesday's practice. He sat out Wednesday's practice but played a significant amount of snaps Friday night.

Tomlin was unclear Sunday whether Hawkins sustained a new injury or suffered further damage to the previous injury.

Down two tackles after waiving No. 5 tackle Brian Mihalik injured, the Steelers used Chris Hubbard at both tackle positions during Sunday's walk-through practice in the St. Vincent College gym.

A second-team center/guard, Hubbard moved from left guard to right tackle against the Lions after Mihalik injured his knee.

Hubbard was an emergency tackle last year in Game 13 at Cincinnati when he filled in for Alejandro Villanueva for one snap.

"I feel confident about it," said Hubbard. "I think the coaches believe in me for being able to go out there and play tackle or guard or center or whatever they need me to do, I'm capable of doing it and willing to do it."

Hubbard played both tackle positions in college at UAB but has worked primarily at guard and center the last three seasons with the Steelers. His ability to play all five positions will no doubt help Hubbard in his roster battle.

"All of them are my favorites," Hubbard said. "Whatever they need me to do, I'm able to do it."


While the Steelers did place safety Rusty Ventrone on Injured Reserve, and are expected to place Mihalik on IR if he clears waivers, Tomlin had no injury updates on QB Bruce Gradkowski (hamstring) or OLB Anthony Chickillo (ankle).

So for now, that makes Dustin Vaughan the No. 3 quarterback, and the Steelers under Tomlin have always kept three quarterbacks on the roster.

In Friday's game, Vaughan replaced Gradkowski late in the third quarter after the 33-year-old felt "a pop" in the back of his leg while scrambling for nine yards.

Vaughan guided the Steelers 12 more yards to set up Chris Boswell's 37-yard field goal for a 17-16 lead early in the fourth quarter.

The Steelers lost, 30-17, as Vaughan completed six of 11 passes for 50 yards and was sacked three times.

When asked how he felt he played, Vaughan said, "Pretty good." Tomlin said, "I thought he was game. I thought he had a good demeanor. Obviously it wasn't great circumstances for him to come into the game and operate under, but such is life for a guy in his position. I thought he handled it relatively well."

Vaughan, 25, originally signed out of West Texas A&M with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2014. He made the Cowboys' 53-man roster but didn't play that season. He was cut last camp and spent a month on the Buffalo Bills' practice squad. Vaughan signed with the Steelers last January 22.

"I really enjoy this camp experience," he said. "It's different because we're in dorm rooms, we're in a college, so you have that aspect, but it really builds a lot of team chemistry, a lot of team camaraderie, so I like that aspect. We're kind of in the middle of nowhere, whereas Dallas is in Oxnard (Texas) and there are places around there.

"Here, this is what you're doing, you're here playing football. That's been a really, really positive thing that I've liked."

X'S & O'S

Doran Grant worked at safety during Monday's practice. His physical style of play was obvious during Friday's game, and the team's tackling leader (7) also intercepted a pass and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown.

* The Steelers also waived defensive tackle Roy Philon injured Sunday. They added OT Wade Hansen (Virginia Tech), DT Khaynin Mosley-Smith (Pitt, Woodland Hills HS) and CB Julian Whigham (Syracuse).

* On having to work in the college gym because of rain, Tomlin said, "Oftentimes when we slow down on the activity it increases the communication, and that's good. The giving and receiving of information, whether it's coach to player or player to player, I thought we had a productive outing in here in spite of the weather circumstance."

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