What if I had told you prior to the 2015 season starting that quarterback Landry Jones and tackle Alejandro Villanueva would be starting the Pittsburgh Steelers in their Week 10 game against the Cleveland Browns? Most of you probably would’ve told me that I was crazy to start with and for those few of you who may have believed me, you would’ve likely told me that I should get started on my 2016 draft preparation.
Well, here we are in Week 10 and the improbable scenario above is about to happen. In fact, it’s about to happen for a second time this season as Jones and Villanueva already started once together back in Week 7 against the Kansas City Chiefs. The latter has even been the Steelers starter at left tackle for three games now as he was forced into lineup permanently after Kelvin Beachum was lost for the season to a knee injury in the team’s Week 6 game against the Arizona Cardinals.
During his Tuesday press conference, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was once again asked to access the performance of Villanueva so far this season headed into the game against Browns.
“It’s been above the line, and it’s been on the rise and needs to continue to be,” Tomlin said.
According to our very own Alex Kozora, Villanueva has allowed 3.5 sacks so far this season in his 152 pass blocking opportunities. The half sack that he gave up this past Sunday in the win over the Oakland Raiders, however, resulted in starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffering a left foot sprain which will result in him likely missing Sundays’ game against the Browns. Villanueva talked about that play on Wednesday.
“You gotta be more physical; it was one of those things where… it’s happened (allowing late sacks) to me a couple times now,” Villanueva said, according to Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “You’ve got to be able to finish games and be more consistent toward the end.”
Despite Tomlin saying that Villanueva is on the rise, the former Army Captain knows that he still has a long way to go before he’s considered one of the better left tackles in the league.
“For me, it’s continuing to catch up, continuing to improve, just feeling more comfortable at the position,” Villanueva said recently, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. “Especially describing scenarios of how plays pan out. You can look at it in the book or in the film room, but you have to have the experience.”
Being as Beachum is not currently under contract for the 2016 season, there’s a bit of uncertainty right now as to who will be the Steelers starter on the left side next season. Villanueva certainly has a chance to stake claim to that spot during the remainder of the season. At worst, the Steelers should have themselves a reliable swing tackle for next season as he’s bound to get a lot more experience between now and then.
Sunday against the Browns, Villanueva is likely to square-off quite a bit against outside linebackers Armonty Bryant and Paul Kruger, who have combined for 5 sacks so far this season.