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Hubbard finds a home at tight end

Posted Dec 15, 2016

Running game gets a boost from additional blocking up front.

No. 74 IS ELIGIBLE: Backup offensive lineman Chris Hubbard, who made the team in part due to his versatility, is thriving in a role he didn’t initially envision.

Hubbard, who’s listed as a center/guard, started three games for Marcus Gilbert at right tackle (against the Jets, at the Dolphins and against the Patriots) at midseason.

But of late it’s been Hubbard’s work as an extra tight end that’s helped keep the running game  humming.

The Steelers have rushed for 146, 148, 117 and 240 yards during their four-game winning streak.

Hubbard played 30 offensive snaps (40 percent) in last Sunday’s 27-20 win over Buffalo and was on the field for 23 Le’Veon Bell runs that produced 108 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.

Hubbard was in for 12 snaps (17 percent) on Nov. 20 at Cleveland, 17 (31 percent) on Nov. 24 at Indianapolis and 18 (25 percent) on Dec. 4 against the New York Football Giants.

“We’re just trying to take out the big guys, especially the (defensive) ends, the extra linebacker, whatever’s out there,” Hubbard.

Offensive tackle Ryan Harris played a similar role early in the season, although not to the extent Hubbard has recently.

Harris went on the Reserve/Injured list on Oct. 8.

“It turned to me,” Hubbard said. “And then when ‘Gil’ (Gilbert) went down we had to take it out for a while.

“I’ve gotten a lot of snaps this time, it’s amazing.”

And it’s been working.
 
“Whenever Chris was in there it seemed to be working really well so we left him on the field,” Gilbert assessed. “Every time he came on the field we ran the ball so effectively, they couldn’t stop it at all.”

Hubbard played in two of the seven personnel groups the Steelers deployed against the Bills.

One included tight end Jesse James, fullback Roosevelt Nix, wide receiver Antonio Brown and Bell, along with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the five starting offensive linemen.

The other consisted of Hubbard, James and tight end David Johnson, Brown and Bell, along with Roethlisberger and the line.

Bell had 19 carries for 121 yards when Nix was in the game.

The carry-over component when Hubbard was used was having one wide receiver on the field.

“We’re really not trying to do too much, not trying to put the receivers in a tough situation to get up to that second level and block or crackin' positions (on linebackers), because that’s a tough job to do,” Gilbert explained. “They really toned it down. We weren’t trying to do so much. We ran the plays that we run pretty well and they just couldn’t stop it.

“We ran the ball to the right, we did it well. We ran the ball to the left, we did a damn good job.”

BURFICT EFFECT: Bell and Brown are among the Steelers who have an individual history with Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who was suspended when the two teams met in September (as was Bell).

But the Steelers are also quick to acknowledge Burfict can play.

“He’s a tremendous football player,” guard David DeCastro said. “One of the best linebackers in the league, no doubt. He makes a ton of plays and he’s a smart football player. When you add a guy like that with his athletic ability and his football awareness, you can see on film, they make more plays and they’re a better defense with him.

“We don’t go in there with any ulterior motives. If something happens, it happens and we’ll be ready. But we’re just trying to win a football game.”