For a starting gig, there is only one battle to pay attention this year. And it comes at the most important position. Left tackle. Alejandro Villanueva is taking on challenger Ryan Harris in camp, rotating first team days. And though Villanueva is the incumbent, someone who performed admirably in his first year, Harris has the experience, a 70 game starter and Super Bowl champion.
You’d think it could create tension in that room but to Villanueva, everyone has embraced the challenge.
“It’s a challenge but it’s part of the business,” he told reporters before yesterday’s practice, via Steelers.com. “There’s two sides to the story. There’s what I want, what the team wants, and what Ryan wants. Because of that, I think the offensive line is a very professional group here with the Steelers.”
It’s a tight-knit group, Maurkice Pouncey has talked about their Thursday night hangouts last year, ordering food, getting treatment, and watching tape. That’s attributed by the longevity of the group. Ramon Foster has been here since 2009, Pouncey since 2010, Marcus Gilbert since 2011, and David DeCastro since 2012. That surely reduces any sense of animosity between the group.
Villanueva also credited their coach for keeping the competition healthy and productive.
“Coach Munchak is an unebeliveable leader. He’s been able to set expectations for everybody. How w’ere going to do this, how we’re going to go about the competition. For an undrafted player like me, this is a best case scenario to compete.”
As Pete Prisco wrote about over the offseason, players naturally gravitate towards coaches who have an NFL resume. Someone who’s been in the trenches like them and know exactly what the players are going through. And few are more accomplished than Mike Munchak, a Hall of Famer.
From my view, Villanueva still seems to be the odds on favorite to keep the left tackle spot with Harris settling into a backup, swing role. But no matter how the battle unfolds, it’s clear every side will accept the decision.