With Pittsburgh Steelers starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva recently missing a few training camp practices with a shoulder issue, rookie third-round draft pick Chukwuma Okorafor was afforded the opportunity to get some first-team reps in his place. During a recent sit-down interview with Pat Kirwan of ‘Movin’ the Chains’ on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin talked a little about Okorafor and gave a progress report of sorts.
“The most pleasant surprise about him is that he’s embraced the competition element of this camp and that’s good for a young guy,” Tomlin said of Okorafor, who is likely to be the Steelers swing tackle during his rookie season. “You know, one man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. Villanueva has missed some work in practice. He’s had an opportunity to run with the big dogs and he’s been embracing that and looking like he’s having fun with it, and that’s a good perspective to have. He’s got a lot of talent. He’s working to improve his technique relative to his position and I think all of that has been encouraging thus far.”
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert even commented to Kirwan the other day on Okorafor after watching him work as the first-team left tackle in place of Villanueva.
“Chuks ended up working with the ones, offensively, against the ones, defensively, so he had to have the trust of the quarterback even in a practice setting and he showed up and did a nice job,” Colbert said of Okorafor. “So, the size, the athleticism, that’s never been an issue. The strength, the power, he’s a young football player. You know, he migrated to this country at I believe he was nine years old. Didn’t play football until he was a junior at Southfield High School up there in Detroit and he’s continuing to grow. There’s a lot of things that are new to him, but I think there’s a lot of things that are pretty natural to him, too.”
While the praise given to Okorafor by Tomlin and Colbert is nice and a little bit exciting, when it came time for Villanueva to talk to Kirwan about his backup he made a really interesting player comparison.
“He’s phenomenal,” Villanueva said of Okorafor. “I mean, he’s very athletic. It’s very rare to find players that have such quick feet for his size. Reminds you – I’m not going to use the name Trent Williams – you know, but he just moves very fluidly for his size. [He’s] got long arms, he’s a hard worker and so it’s a really good addition to the group.”
While Villanueva didn’t want to compare Okorafor to Trent Williams, the former first-round selection of the Washington Redskins, he pretty much did. Williams, in case you need reminding, has made the Pro Bowl the last six years in a row.
Not long after Tomlin, Colbert and Villanueva all spoke about Okorafor, the Western Michigan product started missing practice time with a shoulder injury of some sorts. Hopefully, he’ll be able to resume practicing on Sunday and ultimately play in the Steelers preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles this coming Thursday. Could we see him play some at both left and and right tackle in that contest? It’s hard to know the correct answer to that question but Colbert made it clear a few days ago that Okorafor has shown the ability to in the past.
“I don’t think he played much [at right tackle] as a freshman [at Western Michigan], but as a sophomore he was a starting right tackle and then he flipped over to the left side,” Colbert said.