We still have some time to kill before the Pittsburgh Steelers get back on the field, and their bye week happens to have fallen at a pretty appropriate time, so over the course of this week, we are going to bring you a sort of quick-hitter review of how the team has performed on a positional basis.
Position: Offensive Tackle
Alejandro Villanueva: The back story is well-established by now and need not be revisited here. Alejandro Villanueva entered his first full season in the starting lineup after converting to offensive tackle—a position he had limited experience playing in college—while on the Steelers practice squad in 2014. He may not be a Pro Bowler, but he has some impressive tools and is still improving. The team’s pass protection overall is to be commended this year, to a degree that suggests everyone has done a decent job of it.
Marcus Gilbert: Coming off by far his best season, Marcus Gilbert started the year nursing a shoulder injury only to be sidelined for three games due to a foot injury. He is looking to make his return to the lineup on Sunday and reminding us of the sort of player he has developed into.
Chris Hubbard: From whipping boy to…well, not whipping boy, Chris Hubbard has drastically changed public perception about him following a solid three-game cameo in the starting lineup at right tackle. He acquitted himself well filling in for Gilbert over that stretch, and has certainly earned his roster spot this year. It’s kind of hard to think that this guy has been around for four years already.
Brian Mihalik: A 2015 seventh-round defensive end drafted by the Eagles, the Steelers signed him to a futures contract and converted him to offensive tackle. He acquitted himself reasonably well adjusting to that position during the preseason, but suffered an injury in the process. After he healed, the Lions signed him to their practice squad. When Pittsburgh needed another tackle, they plucked him for their 53.
Notes: If I told back in the summer that by midseason the Steelers’ backup tackles would be Chris Hubbard and Brian Mihalik, you would probably be horrified. The front office finally seemed to have gotten their act together by bringing in an experienced veteran like Ryan Harris and drafted a talented underclassman with room to grow in Jerald Hawkins.
Of course, Hawkins suffered a shoulder injury in the first preseason game, a game in which he looked good, and he was put on injured reserve as a result. In the game in which Marcus Gilbert was injured, Harris suffered a hematoma that also landed him on injured reserve, partly because the team was in dire need of a roster spot—in hindsight, maybe that move should have been for Cody Wallace.
Initially, the Steelers called up Matt Feiler on the practice squad to take over the fourth tackle position, but they later signed Mihalik off another team’s practice squad for that role. They likely would have signed Mihalik instead of Feiler to the practice squad had he not gotten injured in the preseason. As you probably know, Mihalik’s football background bears some resemblances to Villanueva’s as a 6’9” former defensive end.