While Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Alejandro Villanueva is pretty well solidified at this point as the team’s starting left tackle, at least as job security is concerned, it might be easy to forget just how much of a relative novice he continues to be. It wasn’t even a year ago that he made his first career start, after all.
And it also happened to come against the Kansas City Chiefs, whom the Steelers and Villanueva will be facing tomorrow, when the team got pushed around a bit by a score of 23-13 in what also happened to be the first career start of Landry Jones at quarterback.
So perhaps this game means a bit extra to Villanueva, as a benchmark to compare and contrast how he has grown over the course of the past season since he has begun logging playing time. Other than a division opponent, the Chiefs are the first team that he has gotten the opportunity to face in multiple seasons, so it can serve as a barometer.
I happened to have done a film study of his performance during that game, although I chose at that time to reserve space only to emphasize the positive aspects of his performance, and if you look back on that post, you might be led to the impression that he played like a Pro Bowler, which was not the case, and which he would hasten to point out himself.
You might recall that Villanueva was responsible for giving up two sacks in that game, the second of which also produced a forced fumble late in the proceedings that essentially sealed the loss, and he also ended up on the ground fairly frequently, had issues getting out of his stance off the ball, and struggled to pick up stunts. In other words, he had a lot to improve upon.
He said as much as he recounted his first start recently to Jim Wexell. “My sets were horrible”, he told the Steel City Insider writer. “I was terrible. I was too slow off the ball. There are a lot of things that I obviously noticed that I’ve changed since last year”.
While it has not technically been a year since Villanueva entered the starting lineup, he will actually be making his 16th career start in a meaningful game, as he started the final 10 games of the 2015 regular season, plus the Steelers’ two postseason games. Add in the three starts this season, and we are on to game number 16.
Tamba Hali ultimately won the day against the then-first-year tackle, but Villanueva is hoping to redeem himself against the veteran pass-rusher the second time around. Being able to play an opponent a second time and adjust your game accordingly based on the results of the first encounter is just another part of the maturation of a starting offensive lineman, which is a process that the former Army Ranger is continually undergoing.