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Steelers rookie Hawkins drawing comparisons to Beachum

August 7, 2016 GMT

Not many players on the Steelers in recent years were held in higher regard by their teammates than Kelvin Beachum.

Not many veteran Steelers are more reluctant than Cameron Heyward to compliment a rookie all that much.

Those facts are what made Heyward’s praise of rookie offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins so noteworthy Saturday.

“I think of him almost as a taller Beachum,” said Heyward, who as the Steelers’ starting left defensive end has matched up often against Hawkins during training camp. “Just the way he’s got long arms. That’s not to say you’re ‘Beach,’ because that’s a helluva statement. I’m not saying he’s there yet. But he’s got tools where he could learn to be like that.”

The 6-foot-6, 305-pound Hawkins has been getting reps primarily as the second-team right tackle through the first eight practices of training camp.

A fourth-round pick brought in, in part, to help replace Beachum after the former starting left tackle departed via free agency, Hawkins hasn’t at all looked out of place. And why should he after starting all 37 games he played over three seasons at LSU, a program that not only plays a brutal schedule against numerous future NFL players (think: Alabama defensive linemen) but also plays a pro-style offense.

“I’m playing pretty much the same concepts,” said Hawkins, who passed on his final season of college eligibility to declare for the draft. “Camp has been pretty much everything I expected. Playing the kind of ball they play in the SEC, that helped me a lot, but this is the NFL and everybody’s even better.”

Hawkins said he added just a little weight since completing his college career. The athleticism is apparent, and Hawkins has shown eager to listen to and learn from veteran teammates and respected position coach Mike Munchak.

“He’s athletic, he’s got a good frame on him, and he’s going to learn a lot from Munch and those guys,” Heyward said. “He’s just got to develop that nasty side.”

Hawkins is not unlike some of the Steelers’ starters on the offensive line such as Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert and Ramon Foster in that he’s affable by nature. Those three veterans, however, often play angry between the lines.

Overall, Hawkins is thus far showing he’s worthy of a 53-man roster spot as a rookie because his skillset and ceiling are just too enticing for the Steelers to risk sliding Hawkins through waivers to stash him on the practice squad. But with veteran Ryan Harris signed in the offseason to serve, at worst, as the backup at both tackles, Hawkins likely won’t be active on gamedays (barring injury) as a rookie.

“Really, I’m just honestly trying to fit in where I can and just trying to absorb everything and learn from the older guys, all of whom have been teaching me so much about the game,” Hawkins said. “Honestly, whatever my role this season is going to be, I’m going to try to play it the best that I can.”