It is generally not a good thing when a player that virtually nobody back in June thought had any hope of making the 53-man roster is called upon to enter a game. But that is where the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves with Matt Feiler checking in at the 5:51 minute remaining mark of the fourth quarter on Sunday.
The first-year 25-year-old, originally undrafted out of Bloomsburg in 2014, replaced right tackle Chris Hubbard after the latter suffered a concussion on the play before. Hubbard was already making his fifth start of the season in place of their intended starter at right tackle, Marcus Gilbert.
The biggest twist of all aspects is the fact that Feiler had actually spent the past two seasons working virtually exclusively at guard. It wasn’t until he made the 53-man roster as the eighth of nine linemen—ahead of 2016 fourth-round tackle Jerald Hawkins—that he began taking tackle reps in earnest.
Good thing he did, because the Steelers needed him to close out Sunday’s win. And he didn’t check in under favorable circumstances, given a third and 15 to face. The Steelers made sure to help him out, with Xavier Grimble chipping the end and David DeCastro working a combo block.
Pittsburgh was backed up to their own eight at the start of the next drive, the final, with under two minutes to play. on first down, he did a good job initially of washing out the tackle after DeCastro released him, but ultimately lost the block. His man recorded an assist on the four-yard run.
He was on his own for the next snap, and the Lions threw a stunt at him. it seemed at first that he was having a hard time passing off the end, but was able to pick up the looping tackle pretty easily. He was washed out from the back with DeCastro bowling the end into him.
Finally, facing a third and six, he faced a true one-on-one passing situation and held his own, absorbing a bull rush with quick chop steps in reverse before setting his base. DeCastro game over the help late, but it was unnecessary.
Two plays later—the penultimate meaningful play—he and DeCastro worked a combo block well enough to allow Feiler to reach the tackle and seal him off from the inside lane, which helped produce a three-yard gain, though they needed four.
It was a very small sample size—just nine including victory formation—but Feiler did not look particularly lost coming off the bench cold in his meaningful debut. But while he may have never played a snap on offense in a non-exhibition game before, remember that he is no novice. This is his fourth season spending time with an NFL team.