At 4th camp, Steelers DT Lavon Hooks seeks roster spot
With Steelers training camp opening this week, the Trib is spotlighting a handful of the 90 attendees who might not be big names but who are fighting for a roster spot and potentially could make an impact on the 2018 team. This is the fourth in that series that will run leading into reporting day at St. Vincent College on Wednesday.
When the Steelers convene for training camp, Lavon Hooks will know exactly where to report. He won’t need directions and will know many of the faces he encounters on a first-name basis.
Wednesday is the opening of Hooks’ fourth NFL training camp, his third with the Steelers. But the defensive tackle has yet to appear in a regular-season pro game.
Is this finally the year the Steelers get Hook-ed?
“I got the playbook now; I am ahead of the younger guys now,” the 312-pound defensive lineman said after a minicamp session last month. “I am not the ‘younger guy’ anymore.
“I definitely have matured since that first season. I understand the playbook and schemes and why we are doing what we are doing. I always want to make progress each year. I don’t want to take any steps backwards. I feel like I’ve progressed to the point I’m ready now.”
The Steelers believed enough in the readiness of Hooks that he confirmed he was getting some first-team reps during mini-camp and organized team activities this spring. Yes, part of that was because some of the veterans were injured – but it still shouldn’t be diminished that the coaches chose Hooks over any of their other options to “start.”
The Steelers have also shown they think enough of Hooks that they have invited him back to their offseason roster each of the past three years. After spending the 2015 training camp with the Green Bay Packers following his college eligibility expiring at Ole Miss, Hooks has been exclusively in the NFL employ of the Steelers since February 2016.
This past season, Hooks spent all 17 weeks on the practice squad, an invaluable source for practice reps, immersion into NFL schemes (often as part of the scout team) and in professional-style training and nutrition techniques.
Now 26 years old, Hooks has a sizable edge in physical and, theoretically, mental maturity over his younger rivals for roster spots.
“I’ve mainly wanted to improve the mental aspect of the game,” Hooks said. “I have always had the size, and I’ve always had the athleticism; now it’s just been putting it all together.
“It comes down to playing with intensity and understating the scheme and why we are doing what we are doing.”
Hooks has gotten practice reps across different spots on the defensive line. If he is to have a shot at making the 53-man roster, it will be as a backup to starters Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave and (barring injury) likely in addition to veterans Tyson Alualu and L.T. Walton.
Veteran Daniel McCullers, seventh-round pick Joshua Frazier and undrafted rookies Kendal Vickers, Greg Gilmore, Parker Cothren, Casey Sayles and Darnell Leslie are Hooks’ competition.
All but McCullers could walk into camp wide-eyed and tentative. Hooks is one of the more veteran first-year players the Steelers have had in recent years . Can he lean on that in finally earning a spot on the active roster?
“I’m feeling good; anywhere they put me, I feel like I can contribute,” Hooks said. “I am trying to fit into the d-line, but I am always trying to make my way into special teams too. For guys in my position, that’s important.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.