Todd Haley may be gone, but one of his lasting legacies may well prove to be the retention of the extra lineman as a regular feature of the offense. Since his first season with the team in 2012, the Pittsburgh Steelers have made use of the tackle-eligible as a multi-functional tool, starting with then-rookie Mike Adams.
It was birthed in part due to necessity as a response to issues with blocking and protection, but it also serves a very valuable role in helping to accelerate the growth of young offensive linemen, which has proven to be effective over the years.
And which is why you should expect to see Chukwuma Okorafor used in that role.
The Steelers’ rookie third-round draft pick has only been playing along the offensive line since he was about 14 or 15 years old, and he is still just 20 right now. Even though he was a three-year starter in college, he’s still seen as a pretty raw talent in need of development.
And what better way to get him some low-risk experience than to stick him out there as a tackle-eligible? That’s how Adams did it. Kelvin Beachum learned the same way, and then Chris Hubbard did after him. Even Jerald Hawkins took over that role last season, but now the third-year player is due to spend yet another year on injured reserve.
Even though Haley is no longer with the Steelers, offensive line coach Mike Munchak, who has been with the team since 2014, is also a big proponent of the tackle-eligible. Adams was still the swing tackle at that point and he earned his playing time through that role.
“It gets you in the game. You aren’t just standing on the sideline the whole game”, Munchak said of the benefits of putting a young and developing lineman into that extra role. “Hubbard used to get 10 plays a game. It really helped their confidence when they had to play for real”.
The Steelers even used interior offensive lineman B.J. Finney as the extra lineman in a couple of games last season when Hubbard was playing in the starting lineup while Marcus Gilbert was sidelined with an injury. Matt Feiler also said that he practiced in that role, though never got to do so in a game, so that is four different linemen—all the backups—that Munchak ran through that role just last year.
Of course, it would be preferable if your swing tackle gets some tangible playing experience before he ever has to play for real due to an injury, suspension, or other circumstance that takes a starter off the field. putting him in as an extra lineman is the ideal solution, and that is even without consideration of the tangible schematic benefits it provides in select circumstances.