Injured OT Jerald Hawkins confident he’ll make impact on Steelers — in 2019
Jerald Hawkins hasn’t taken part in a single rep of practice at Saint Vincent, but there are few players you find yourself seeing more often on campus, or even on the practice field.
At 6 feet 6 and 305 pounds, Hawkins is hard to miss – especially when the offensive tackle wearing the former LSU player is wearing the bright purple shirt he so often wears, as well as a large floppy sun hat. Hawkins’ ubiquitous wide smile, deep voice and constant laugh make him further conspicuous.
But as a player on injured reserve and out for the season, Hawkins’ presence all over camp isn’t necessarily rare – but it’s also not automatically routine for an injured player to be seen around the team so much and so often.
“I have been around everything; I want to be around as much as I possibly can,” Hawkins said while standing on campus last week. “I am always around dealing with the o-line, the offense. Honestly, they keep me in check, so I am loving it.”
Hawkins was smiling as he said that, as he so often is. But he concedes that it was anything but easy to smile over much of the late spring and early summer after he tore a quadriceps muscle during an organized team activity session .
“It was non contact!” Hawkins said incredulously. “It’s the craziest thing. I look on film, ‘How in the heck did it happen?’”
The limp in his step gradually evening out in recent weeks, Hawkins has been wearing a compression brace around his middle left leg – one that he will peel down to show off his scar on his knee from surgery to repair the muscle.
“(Medical staff) honestly say I am healing faster than expected,” Hawkins said. “They are double-checking everything making sure I am not moving too fast but they are saying it’s awesome right now. ‘Keep it up.’”
That Hawkins is ahead of schedule is a sliver of a silver lining that he’s lost a full NFL season for the second time in three years. While the 2016 IR designation for a camp shoulder injury could have been viewed as something of a blessing as a “redshirt” for a rookie fourth-round pick, this one hurts much more.
Following the offseason departure of Chris Hubbard in free agency, Hawkins was in line to be the top backup at both tackle positions this season.
Hawkins insists he is not letting the rotten luck ruin his demeanor.
“I am keeping a good outlook, keeping my mentality,” he said. “I know I had a few doubts the second time I got hurt this year, but the guys helped me through, my coaches, they kept me in a great mindset.”
Hawkins said the prognosis is he will be 100 percent healed at some point over the winter, so he should have no restrictions come next year’s offseason workouts. While now a three-year NFL veteran who fully is immersed into the Steelers offense, Hawkins is soaking in all he can in case there are any new wrinkles under new coordinator Randy Fichtner, as well as continuing to pick up tips from Hall of Fame offensive line coach Mike Munchak.
The goal is to hit the proverbial ground running come spring – preceding what will suddenly be a contract year for Hawkins, who despite all the bad luck remains assured he “definitely” has a bright NFL future ahead of him.
“I felt I was in a great place, great health, great physical, great mental grasp of things, everything,” Hawkins said. “Honestly, all the other guys were really praising me most of the time saying I’d made a big jump from the year before.
“So I am just going to build off of that. It’ll just have to be 2019, though.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.