The journey toward Super Bowl LII ended far too prematurely for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sending them into offseason mode before we were ready for it. But we are in it now, and are ready to move on, through the Combine, through free agency, through the draft, into OTAs, and beyond.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions over the years and will continue to do so, and at the moment, there seem to be a ton of questions that need answering. A surprise early exit in the postseason will do that to you though, especially when it happens in the way it did.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring developments all throughout the offseason process, all the way down to Latrobe. Pending free agents, possible veteran roster cuts, contract extensions, pre-draft visits, pro days, all of it will have its place when the time arises.
Question: Will Chukwuma Okorafor be prepared to be counted upon as the swing tackle if necessary by the regular season?
Following the injury to Jerald Hawkins earlier this week, one of the bigger questions that the Steelers front office is going to have to ask itself heading into the summer is whether or not they are going to have a backup tackle on the 90-man roster that they would be comfortable putting into a game.
Granted, Pittsburgh has gotten caught with its pants down before. I mean, Jonathan Scott once opened a season as a starter. But they also had a rookie Marcus Gilbert that year intended to be the swing tackle, and Trai Essex as a veteran backup. They have since learned the value of the backup tackle.
The year Alejandro Villanueva ended up in that role with no experience, that was due to Mike Adams suffering a back injury they did not anticipate would cost him his season. Now with Chris Hubbard gone, the Steelers are hoping that rookie Chukwuma Okorafor can make quick progress to serve in that role immediately.
Will he? We obviously don’t know the answer to this. It will probably take a good portion of the offseason and at least a couple of preseason games before we really get a feel for what he might look like in a meaningful in-game situation.
How well and how quickly he can make strides will probably end up being the determining factor as to whether or not the team feels the need to make a move of relative significance at the tackle position. They figured Hawkins and Okorafor would compete for that job, but the competition has been decided for them.
The other option with any meaningful experience would be Matt Feiler, who worked mostly at guard last year and is even working at center now. He was the swing tackle for a few games in the first half of the season, and even had to play the last several snaps in the game against the Lions after Hubbard left with a concussion.