While trying not the oversell its significance, it was no doubt interesting to see that the Pittsburgh Steelers used first-year tackle Alejandro Villanueva as an eligible receiver during practice yesterday, and actually threw him a pass.
Of course, it is worth pointing out at this time that Ben Roethlisberger actually threw a pass to outside linebacker James Harrison in a game last season. Weird things happen sometimes, and they don’t always mean much of anything, nor predict future occurrences.
According to Alex Kozora’s accounting of practice, Villanueva actually declared himself eligible twice during practice, with the other time occurring on a running play.
There is a lot to be said about the possibilities and implications of just a single incomplete pass, but before doing so, it’s worth stating again that it doesn’t have to mean much, and that everything to be read from it is speculation.
But we do have Villanueva’s back story, who was recruited by Army as a tight end, and even ended up playing wide receiver during his senior season. He previously tried out for NFL teams twice, both times as a tight end, without making a roster.
We also know that Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley is not one to shy away from getting an extra lineman on the field as a tackle eligible. This is something that he has done fairly extensively at different points of the past two seasons, with Mike Adams serving in that role.
Knowing that this is a role that is in Haley’s repertoire and playbook, there is at least some ground to this, although they’ve never thrown Adams a pass before. With Villanueva, though, it has been a long while since he’s run a route.
This past week, Villanueva has worked at left tackle, right tackle, and now as a tackle-eligible and a target in the passing game. He has gotten extensive work during the preseason. Left tackle has not been manned by anybody but himself and Kelvin Beachum thus far through two games.
It does seem that the Steelers are priming Villanueva for a role on the 53-man roster, although it’s too early to say whether or not that will come in the form of a game day active role. Adams, of course, remains out as he recovers from back surgery.
At this point, it seems reasonable to wonder whether the swing tackle job is his for the taking, as long as he shows that he is capable of doing it. And in the meantime, his ability to serve as a tackle-eligible could help him get a helmet and get on the field.
While Haley did send Adams on a route or two, Villanueva actually has the background to be a receiving threat. Nobody is fooled by Adams running a route, but if the Steelers can put Villanueva on tape making a catch or two, it would force defenses to account for him in the receiving game when he is on the field. But, of course, a lot of things need to happen first in order for that to ever take place.