The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Will newly-signed offensive tackle Ryan Harris win the starting job at left tackle?
Now that the Steelers have seemingly finished rebuilding their offensive line by re-signing Ramon Foster to start at left guard and bringing in Ryan Harris via free agency to provide depth and competition at the tackle position, there are still some things left to be sorted out; specifically, will the new guy start at left tackle, or will the incumbent injury replacement, Alejandro Villanueva?
Villanueva entered the starting lineup in Week Seven last season after cracking the 53-man roster for the first time in his age-27 season. His promotion, as mentioned, however, was as an injury replacement, following a torn ACL suffered by Kelvin Beachum, who yesterday made it official that he would not be the starting left tackle for Pittsburgh in 2016.
Villanueva had some significant growing pains over the course of his dozen starts, including the postseason, but also some significant progress over that time, which seemingly led most to believe that he had more than enough to work with to feel comfortable with him taking over the starting position full-time.
But the signing of Harris was not done just for depth. The Steelers were not comfortable in handing Villanueva the position, and in Harris they have added an experienced veteran with championship experience who will be legitimate competition.
A former third-round pick from 2007, Harris, who just turned 31, is a bit of an old dog, but who may be willing and able to learn a new trick or two as Flozell Adams did when he signed with Pittsburgh in 2010, moving from left tackle to right tackle. The veteran respects Mike Munchak, which is a good thing.
After having a bit of a rough history with injuries—dislocated toes in 2009 that put him on injured reserve, back surgery that wiped out his 2011 season—he has started 31 games in the past two seasons after spending two years as a backup in Houston regaining his stature in the league post-back surgery.
Many have observed that he improved over time during the course of the 2015 season, and is more comfortable on the left side. There is a reason that he came in for about $2 million per season, but there is also a reason that the Steelers signed him to compete with Villanueva. Simply put, there are a lot of factors in his favor in this race, with Villanueva’s inexperience being one of them, which would favor him opening the season as a starter.