There was a time when Pittsburgh Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert was gunning for accolades. Just a couple of years ago he talked about wanting to get that Pro Bowl recognition that he felt he was deserving of. Now he just wants to win a Super Bowl. And as his teammates continue to champion him for the Pro Bowl, he is now advocating for them—and one in particular.
“We have a lot of marquee guys around here”, Gilbert told Ray Fittipaldo for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of an offensive line that includes a pair of All-Pros and four starters with long-term contracts. But “certain guys aren’t being valued”, he said. “A lot of people don’t see the job [left tackle Alejandro Villanueva] has done”.
Villanueva, of course, didn’t exactly enter the league with much prestige. It was quite a roundabout way that he even finally made an NFL roster several years after leaving college, but his backstory is by now common knowledge. Suffice it to say that his reputation as a football player has been earned with his play, and not his pedigree.
“I think he’s a premier left tackle”, Gilbert said of his bookend lineman on the opposite side, adding that “he’s getting better and better and better”. Villanueva entered the starting lineup on a full-time basis last season, and his teammate saw “a big jump from year 1 to year 2 with him”. That growth continued throughout the season.
“It was a tremendous jump. Seeing him kick slide and do his footwork is impressive. I never saw anyone switch from defensive line to offensive line like that. For him to do a job like that, to play left tackle, the hardest job in the league, is phenomenal”.
While Villanueva spent most of his college career on the offensive side of the ball, and tried to make it in the NFL multiple times as a tight end, it was as a defensive end that he earned a spot on the Eagles’ 90-man roster in 2014, and where the Steelers first saw him.
The former Army Ranger has declined to talk to reporters much so far this year, Fittipaldo noted, deferring to claims of workout schedules, but the implication is that he doesn’t want to talk about his contract situation.
“Al is not a money guy”, Gilbert said, talking about how he wouldn’t want to go anywhere else. But he wants to see his teammate get a deal done “so he has some type of assurance so he doesn’t have to go into a season worrying about a contract”.
You might recall earlier this offseason I wrote about how Villanueva acknowledged that the competition for the starting job that he was put into with Ryan Harris took his toll on him and affected his play early on. But Gilbert thinks he is handling this issue well.
And “he’s very deserving it”, he added. “That playing in your head, it kind of affects you. You never know what can happen”. We’re still a long way from training camp opening up, however, so there is plenty of time for something to happen, no matter how far apart they might be right now.