I have over the course of the past several seasons turned to a series of articles around this time of year in which I looked to explore the issues and questions facing the Pittsburgh Steelers during the upcoming season and trying to identify the range of possibilities in which any given scenario can end.
I started out with a dual series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take and switched last season to the Devil’s Advocate series. In an attempt to find a more streamlined solution with a title more suited to the actual endeavor, we are introducing a simple Buy Or Sell segment exploring whether the position statement is likely to be worth investing in as an idea.
The range of topics will be wide, from the specific to the general, exploring broad long-term possibilities to the immediate future of particular players. I will make an argument for why a concept should be bought into as well as one that can be sold, and you can share your thoughts on which is the more compelling case while offering your own.
Topic Statement: The Steelers will miss the presence of Chris Hubbard this season.
The Steelers only lost one player to unrestricted free agency this year, and that was Chris Hubbard, a fifth-year veteran reserve offensive lineman who has over the course of his professional career played live snaps in meaningful games at all five offensive line positions, as well as at the tackle-eligible spot, though the vast majority of those snaps came at right tackle.
And the reason the vast majority of those snaps have been at right tackle is because the vast majority of the personnel issues have been there. Hubbard has spent a lot of time in the starting lineup the past two years, so if that continues they’re obviously going to miss him to some degree.
The Steelers also liked to use him as an extra lineman, though that’s not as significant a point it might once have been now that they seemingly feel more comfortable with their tight end group, and there are other linemen to take that job.
Part of the issue of this topic is that a positive response already assumes an issue upfront with wither Alejandro Villanueva or Marcus Gilbert, the team’s two starting offensive tackles. While it’s certainly true that they’ve had a spotty history of keeping both of their tackles on the field at the same time, specific injuries are no guarantee.
Villanueva did play nearly every snap last year, and Gilbert’s time lost last year was an aberration in terms of how it happened, including a four-game suspension. He is a player who takes care of his body, and I wouldn’t expect soft-tissue injuries to be a recurring problem.
The Steelers also have options for the backup swing tackle job—at least three of them. Jerald Hawkins is entering his third season now, and he didn’t look out of place in the few snaps he did take a left tackle. Matt Feiler played great at right guard but has plenty of experience working at tackle.
And then there’s the rookie, Chukwuma Okorafor. I think there’s a bit of a false perception about him when people describe him as raw. He’s a three-year starter at the college level; he’s not converting from wide receiver to cornerback. There’s no reason he can’t make quick progress under Mike Munchak.