2018 Training Camp Battles: 9th OL, Or None At All

It won’t be long now before the Pittsburgh Steelers begin rolling into Latrobe, PA to make Saint Vincent College their home away from home for several weeks as the summer winds down. That is when we know that training camp has begun, and with it the first breaths of the 2018 NFL season.

Everything that we have experienced up until now, from the re-signings, releases, and restructures to the draft and all the way through OTAs and minicamp, has been but a preview, the setup, for what is to come next.

And so we too continue to preview what comes next in a series in which we will highlight several of the battles for roster spots and roles that we expect to see during our time observing in training camp and throughout the preseason.

Position: Offensive Line

Up for Grabs: 9th Roster Spot (If That)

In the Mix: Jake Rodgers, Bryce Harris, R.J. Prince, The Field

I didn’t want to just list every offensive lineman on the roster that is not already included in the top eight players. For one thing, it’s much more likely that if a ninth lineman is kept at all at this point, it is going to be one that they prefer at tackle rather than inside, because they already have B.J. Finney and Matt Feiler as backups there. An interior-only player would force Feiler back to tackle and thus not really save a roster spot.

It was virtually taken as a given that the Steelers would keep nine linemen this year, as they did in 2017, because it seemed on paper that they had the talent. While they lost Chris Hubbard, they replaced him with Chukwuma Okorafor in the third round.

The pland went awry after Jerald Hawkins suffered a season-ending injury during OTAs. He was going to compete with Okorafor for the swing tackle role that Hubbard vacated. As the veteran, he may even have held the advantage for the role, with the rookie getting a redshirt year in which he wouldn’t even have to dress.

Now the hope is that he learns quickly and can take on that swing tackle role, because if not, then the three names listed above—excepting Feiler—are the three most likely candidates to take on that role. Prince is an undrafted rookie, Rodgers has only been on practice squads, and Harris has had NFL experience, but not very encouraging performances.

Joseph Cheek and Larson Graham are two other names listed at tackle, though I had read that Graham has been moved to guard. Perhaps that will change in training camp. Still, if we end up getting down to Cheek and Graham, the more likely outcome is that the Steelers acquire a tackle off the street or via trade. Or simply fall back on carrying eight linemen with Feiler being asked to man all five positions.

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