During the Pittsburgh Steelers first training camp practice of the 2016 on Friday, Alejandro Villanueva was the team’s starting left tackle. While not surprising, it’s a sign that he did enough last year as a starter after replacing an injured Kelvin Beachum to warrant him being given every opportunity to keep the job this season even though the team signed veteran tackle Ryan Harris during the offseason.
During a Friday interview on 93.7 The Fan, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley was asked about how Villanueva played last season and if he has confidence that the former Army captain can continue to progress in 2016.
“I think as the season progressed, everybody gained great confidence, including Ben [Roethlisberger], in Al,” said Haley. “You have to remember that the guy hadn’t played at that position really at all and each of those first early games, some of them with Landry [Jones], some of them with Michael Vick, each of those first early games, different things that he saw, it was the first time he ever saw those type of things. But the encouraging thing for us as a coaching staff was the next time he saw them, and he’d be down on himself, but the next time he saw them, he was right on it, he understood what was happening.
“And they see a lot, between the twists and the games and pressures. But each new thing he saw, he may not have got it the first time, but the next time he saw it, because teams will test you, they see that on tape, they come after you as soon as they can, he got it. So, again, another guy that was always in the building, he looks physically better every time you see him and mentally, he’s obviously into it. We can’t keep him out of the building to the point of like physically, hey, you got to leave stuff, because he’ll wear you down to the bone. But that’s a great quality to have, so I think everybody has confidence that he can step in there and do the job.”
While Villanueva did have a rough start initially after talking over the starting left job last season, you could see him get better as the year progressed. Like Haley said, he would learn quick after seeing something new and adjusted accordingly. As Haley also pointed out, he’s as dedicated of a player as you’ll ever see and that’s not surprising when you consider his military background.
As the team continues on through training camp, Villanueva is really the only question mark on the offensive line as we sit here today. If he can take another big step forward this season in his progression and stay healthy, this offensive line group could wind up being one of the best we’ve seen in Pittsburgh in some time.