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Opportunity knocks for Okorafor

No one has told Chukwuma Okorafor about being on a faster track in the wake of the season-ending injury suffered by backup offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins during OTAs.

Then again, not much has needed to be said.

“No one has really taken me aside to kind of like let me know,” Okorafor said. “(Hawkins) getting hurt obviously sucks but at the same time it’s time for the next guy to come in and play. If that’s me or that’s a different guy, we’ll see what happens.

“If it means me playing the first game this year or next year it doesn’t really matter to me, I’ll be fine.”

Hawkins, a second-year pro and a former fourth-round pick from LSU, had been penciled into the swing offensive tackle position behind starters Alejandro Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert that had been vacated by Chris Hubbard’s free-agent departure for Cleveland. Hawkins had played in five games, including one start, in 2017 after missing his rookie season in 2016 due to a shoulder injury.

First crack at filling that void has presumably fallen to Okorafor.

“Obviously, ‘Chukes’ has a big role to fill,” guard David DeCastro said shortly after Hawkins had been lost.

Added Okorafor: “It kinda seems like it’s going that way. One week I was playing left (tackle) and the next week I was playing right (tackle),” during OTAs.

Mandatory veteran minicamp, which opened today and runs through Thursday, is the next step in Okorafor’s development.

He’s already gotten quite an education from the Steelers’ veterans.

“They’re kinda taking me under their wings,” Okorafor said.

Among the helpful lessons Okorafor has already learned as he transitions to the NFL:

—“Play every play hard, not taking a play off. If a play isn’t coming to my side, still kinda play hard. I feel like that’s kinda the main difference coming from college.”

—“It doesn’t matter how big or strong someone is, if he uses the right technique he’ll be fine.”

And, last but not least, offensive line coach Mike Munchak “obviously knows what he’s doing, so learn every play, every technique.”

Where all of this is leading Okorafor remains to be seen.

At this point he’s willing to acknowledge an opportunity but nothing more regrading who ultimately fills Hawkins’ shoes.

“That’s not my job to say,” Okorafor maintained. “My job is to come in and just work and then see what’s going to happen in the fall.”

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