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Mike Tomlin Seeking Discomfort For Offensive Line

For the vast majority of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ training camp experience in 2015, the offensive line groups have remained fairly static, barring injuries. Some players seemed to be settling into their roles, which was probably especially true for the offensive tackles, who had the luxury of staying on one side.

Mike Tomlin and the coaching staff decided to throw a wrench into their progress in a move that he might describe by saying that he is not seeking comfort. In other words, he flipped the linemen around—behind the starters, anyway—to see how they handle the adversity of playing in a new position.

Certainly the main focal point for many was the fact that the team flipped Alejandro Villanueva over from the left tackle spot to the right side with the second-team unit. Villanueva had been running with the third-team unit prior to training camp, but was afforded the opportunity thanks to the back surgery undergone by Mike Adams.

He appeared to be settling down as he adjusts to life as a left tackle. He more than held his own in his preseason debut. While he has gotten some more mixed results since then, including in the second preseason game, he now has a new challenge in front of him.

But this should be a good sign. After all, if the Steelers intend to keep a fourth tackle on the roster, it would behoove them to find one that has position flexibility. While it may take Villanueva time to duplicate the footwork necessary to shift to the right side, you know he’s going to put in the effort, so this should be good for him and the team.

Also struggling after flipping sides was Kelvin Palmer, a late addition to the roster on the eve of training camp. He has spent most of his time on the right side at tackle along the third-team offensive line, although he had received some reps with the second-team line.

Yesterday, he was working opposite Villanueva with the second-team unit at the left tackle spot. And backup center Cody Wallace was at left guard. While that is not new to him—he started two games at left guard just last season—his natural position is center, and he seems more comfortable there.

Taking second-team reps at center was second-year Chris Hubbard, whom Tomlin has said that he has worked all along the interior for a while now, in spite of the lack of evidence available to the public suggesting that that is true.

Hubbard was an undrafted rookie in 2013 who stuck on the practice squad all that year before making the final cut in 2014. He played a very limited role, but the Steelers would clearly like him to get a better feel for the center position if they intend for him to be on the roster again and possibly play a bigger role going forward.

Of course, these are just the types of things that go on during training camp, and is certainly not out of the ordinary. It’s necessary for players at their position in the pecking order to maximize their versatility, and thus their value, to the team. Tomlin was just giving them the opportunity to do so.

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