With the Pittsburgh Steelers’ training camp for the 2015 season now in swing, it’s time to get down to the business of football. The time for “football in shorts” or “football-like” events is over as teams all around the league embark on their own personal journey for the upcoming season.
Although for just about every team the time leading up to the regular season and reflect a period of optimism, it’s also a period of great uncertainty, which means that there are a lot of questions that need to be answered before we know who or what a team truly is. It’s a process that can last well into the regular season.
I think it’s safe to say that one of the top questions in everyone’s mind pertains to a first-year player who has never played a down in the NFL, yet is closer to 30 than he is to 20 despite being out of college for several years.
That is one way to describe the 6’9” Alejandro Villanueva, a former graduate out of Army who went on to serve several distinguished tours of duty as a Ranger overseas. After his latest tour, he is hoping to make another dream come true by making an NFL roster.
Following a couple of aborted attempts to catch on as a tight end over the years, the Philadelphia Eagles were the first team to give him another shot, and they looked at his size and athleticism and pegged him as a defensive end in their high-octane defense, even though he primarily played on the other side of the ball.
After he was released by the team, however, the Steelers picked him up, signing him to their practice squad and electing to bulk him up to work as an offensive tackle, where he played two years at Army before being converted to wide receiver during his senior season.
Villanueva has had about 11 months now stewing within the Steelers’ organization, training with the widely-respected Mike Munchak as his offensive line coach. Former Steelers tackle Tunch Ilkin has also worked with him and had positive things to say about him.
But it’s one thing to put together a handful of solid reps in practice and another thing entirely to do it in an NFL game with consistency, and that is what he is eventually going to have to show in order to become viable offensive line depth.
The Army veteran has certainly done all the right things since becoming a part of the organization, including growing out his physique horizontally to match his vertical assets. He is a willing student and motivated worker.
And he has made strides in his game. Ilkin described him as a potential force in the run game. But his size will also play against him, as we have seen, making it difficult to get low and resulting in him bending at the waist and losing his base, which is lethal as a pass protector.
Working to his advantage is the fact that Mike Adams, the Steelers’ primary reserve tackle, has been sidelined after having an operation on his back. I believe that this will make the Steelers more likely to carry a second reserve tackle on the 53-man roster, and Villanueva remains the leader of that pack—for better or for worse.