Training Camp Expectations: Offensive Tackle

In less than two weeks, we’ll be at training camp, watching the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 90 man roster roll through 14 practices and four games. There will be so much to learn, tons of things going on, so I want to lay out some of my expectations and hopes for each player before things start up and, frankly, all this speculation becomes irrelevant.

Moving onto the offensive tackle group now.

Marcus Gilbert – Gilbert emerged as a star last season, carrying over a 2014 campaign that finished strong after an ugly initial month. Really not a lot to keep looking for. Just show up in the great shape he’s been in and keep dominating. Maybe show a little better anchor against bull rushes? That can get him in a little bit of trouble but hey, as I always say, it’s rare to look pretty versus one.

Alejandro Villanueva – Gilbert is pretty settled in but whew boy, Villanueva has some work to do. Not that it can’t be done, I’m not doubting him and have repeated I fully expect him to enter Week One as the starting left tackle. I just wrote about the things to look from him. Varying his sets and plan of attack, staying on the same level as Ramon Foster to handle stunts more consistently, show no disconnect in zone blocking rules. Work to maintain leverage in both phases though I understand that’s difficult to do at 6’9.

Ryan Harris – I know we’ve already seen a lot of it on tape elsewhere but just like DeAngelo Williams, it’s nice to see it on tape in Pittsburgh. Want to see that he is comfortable and capable of playing left or right tackle. Because I prefer him as a backup – I don’t have a ton of trust in Villanueva being a capable swing man and we know Gilbert is entrenched at his right tackle spot.

So just looking for that ability and showing improved communication with Foster and David DeCastro. Easier said than done. New system, new teammates, the need to be sharp at both spots. I don’t take it for granted but that’s going to be his role. Git r done.

Jerald Hawkins – I’m just happy to see a healthy, matured version of Hawkins, who wasn’t healthy last season and was still figuring things out on the college level as a healthy sophomore. I am very much in the “fact finding” section of him, looking to see who the heck this guy really is.

Let’s see if he looks more comfortable on one side or the other. My guess is the right but really, who knows? Pass protection is probably the larger question than his run blocking, as it is with most linemen, so let’s see if he’s able to play quickly with good technique. No lunging, don’t narrow your base, punch from a powerful base.

Brian Mihalik – The other 6’9 offensive tackle. He’s making the switch from defensive end to tackle and you can’t expect his transition to be as seamless as Villanueva, who at least spent the year unnoticed on the practice squad. He had a head start, Mihalik doesn’t.

Mihalik is going to have to show the ability to play fast. He won’t see a ton of blitz looks, especially in games, but I want to see how he handles those “amoeba” fronts over overload blitz looks. The ones that are going to force you to process a lot of information in a sliver of time.

Consistency is a goal, and something you always preach, but for a guy like him, I’m not sure it’s attainable or even reasonable to expect. I want to see him have some really good days. A day where everything clicks and he looks like he belongs. I know there’s some bad days coming, it’s unavoidable. But if he can show glimpses of the player he *could* be, he has the chance to stick around.

Matt Feiler – We didn’t even get the chance to talk about him on the podcast. My apologies to the Feiler family. I don’t have much on/for him other than he’s a small school kid from Bloomsburg and is here on a futures deal. He’ll have to hope Mihalik flops and prove he’s someone who can play at a competent level on each side. He’s a big guy, 6’6 330, so show nasty in the run game. Finish those blocks, young fella.

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