The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Does the coaching staff’s decision to continue to have Matt Feiler start in place of Marcus Gilbert say more about Feiler or Chukwuma Okorafor?
The Steelers knew what they were doing when they used a third-round draft pick on Chukwuma Okorafor, the 20-year-old novice tackle out of Western Michigan. Even the coaching staff acknowledges that he is further along than they expected him to be.
Over the course of the first six games of the Steelers’ season—his rookie year—he has already logged several dozen snaps, nearly 50, but all of them have come in a tight end role as a tackle-eligible player. This was in spite of the fact that he has been the only backup tackle dressing during games.
But when Marcus Gilbert missed the third game of the season, they chose instead to dress Matt Feiler and start him at right tackle, even though he spent all of the 2017 offseason working at guard. He was the backup tackle ahead of Jerald Hawkins in the first half of the season but was surpassed in the second half.
Gilbert is now missing his second game of the year as the Steelers enter their seventh game, and the eighth week of their season. Yet they have still chosen to have Feiler start at right tackle rather than Okorafor. So the question that arises then is whether this says more about the former or the latter.
It has to be the case that the Steelers would trust him to play tackle. Otherwise he would not be the one to dress as the swing tackle on gamedays. The tackle-eligible role is not so valuable that it would prevent the team from dressing a player they would be willing to allow to take snaps at tackle.
Or does it? Are the Steelers simply taking the risk and banking on their not needing a tackle to play a near-starter amount of snaps during an in-game situation? This has been done before, for example a few years ago when Brice McCain was moved into the starting lineup one game after an injured starter was replaced in-game by Antwon Blake.