My, how things can change from year to year. Two years ago around this time, Pittsburgh Steelers second-year offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva was about a month into his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles, who signed him as a 25-year-old first-year player as a defensive end after watching him at a regional tryout.
Last year around this time, Villanueva was just getting his bearings as far as learning reintegrating himself into the mindset of the offensive lineman goes, and, more importantly, simply preparing himself to seriously push to make a 53-man roster for the first time in his life after several failed attempts.
Now, he is in his third offseason during his latest NFL stint, the second with the Steelers, and the first as an incumbent starter. His mindset must be worlds apart from where it was last season, let alone where he was mentally two years ago when he was with the Eagles.
This is a point that Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak touched on recently when he was talking up the pending position battle for the left tackle spot between Villanueva and free agent signing Ryan Harris, who started 16 games and the playoffs for the Super Bowl-winning Broncos last season.
After about two and a half minutes about addressing the entire tackle situations between Villanueva and Harris, Munchak concluded his answer to the final in a series of questions by pointing out that “at this time last year, he obviously wasn’t really thinking he was going to be the starting tackle for us”, and while that might seem like an obvious point, it is one that is important to point out.
Last season, the Steelers had their left tackle in Kelvin Beachum, who if circumstances might have gone differently last year might have been the proverbial ‘left tackle of the future’. But after suffering a torn ACL, combined with his contract demands, and the opportunity to see Villanueva play, he departed in free agency.
But remember, Villanueva was just hoping to make the roster last year, perhaps even as a big of a longshot to start things off. While he played left tackle for a couple years in college, that had not been his ‘natural position’ in any sense, so he was only just relearning the mindset of an offensive lineman beginning in September of 2014 when the Steelers signed him to the practice squad.
At the time, Pittsburgh already had their swing tackle in Mike Adams, and nobody foresaw that he would end up missing the entire season presumably due to complications stemming from a medical procedure that he underwent on his back prior to training camp.
Villanueva didn’t even have in-game film of himself playing the left tackle position. Prior to the Hall of Fame game, the last time that he played as an offensive lineman in a game was in 2008, his junior season at Army. Just think about that.
He turned 20 years old on September 22 of that year. He will be 28 on September 22 this season, the first in which many anticipate that he will enter as a starter. That may have seemed inconceivable to him eight years ago, but it’s his reality now, and the mindset that he possesses, and that will influence how he undertakes this offseason as he endeavors to hold on to and earn his job.