Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers have signed free agent tackle Ryan Harris to a two-year contract, he and Alejandro Villanueva figure to have a nice training camp battle ahead of them when it comes to the starting spot on the left side of the offensive line. During the recent league meetings in Boca Raton, Florida, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about that forthcoming battle.
“Isn’t that fun? Yep,” Tomlin said, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. “But not only those two. Others, maybe guys you don’t even recognize. I think we always have to be open to the potential of players ascending, and the acknowledgment potentially of players descending. If we go through this process of team building, and we don’t acknowledge those two things, we are going to make a mistake or we are going to make mistakes. We aren’t interested in that, so we are excited about watching those two guys fight it out and others.”
It’s hard to imagine that “others” will ultimately be battling for that starting left tackle spot, but we’ll let have Tomlin lead us all on nonetheless. I suppose former second-round draft pick Mike Adams can be considered a long-shot, however, he missed the entire 2015 season due to back injury. Not only does he need to show that’s healthy enough to resume his career, Adams’ game really needs miraculous improvement if he’s going to make a legitimate case at even making the final 53-man roster.
For all practical purposes, the starting left tackle spot is Villanueva’s to lose right now as he’s held that spot since Week 7 of the 2015 season after Kelvin Beachum was lost for the remainder of the year to a left knee injury. While the former undrafted free agent progressively improved as the 2015 season wore on, he still has plenty of room for improvement. Tomlin, by the way, is already a big fan of Villanueva’s work ethic.
“I don’t know that he has failed at anything in his life, football or otherwise, given an opportunity to prepare and adjust,” said Tomlin of Villanueva. “We had an opportunity to watch him do that. I don’t think any of us that are around him on a day-to-day basis are surprised by what he’s done. I don’t think any of us would be surprised about the steps that he will continue to make, because he has that type of ability to commit and to work. He is a sharp guy. All of those things work in his favor.”
As for Harris, he started 16 games at left tackle for the Denver Broncos in 2015. He’s an experienced veteran who might even be able to refine his game a little more now that he’ll be under the watchful eye of Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak. The former third-round draft pick of the Broncos commented recently on what his immediate goals are.
“The focus isn’t on another player or trying to get a spot,” Harris said. “My focus will be making it through training camp healthy and proving every day.”
Regardless of which player ultimately winds up winning the starting left tackle spot during training camp and the preseason, the loser of the battle figures to be an excellent swing option for the Steelers.
Barring any injuries, the Steelers figure to have one of the best top to bottom offensive lines in the league this year and possibly even one of the best the organization as ever had. Hyperbole? Maybe, but it sure looks damn good on paper right now as we sit here in late March.