While the Pittsburgh Steelers made the prescient move of acquiring additional tackle depth during the 2018 NFL Draft with the third-round selection of Chukwuma Okorafor, it has been another reserve offensive lineman who has started at the tackle position during the two games in which the team has been without one of its starters at the position.
That would be Matt Feiler, an offensive lineman who has been in the NFL in some capacity for five seasons now, but is technically only regarded as a second-year player after serving three seasons on the practice squads of the Houston Texans and Steelers from 2014 to 2016.
Feiler has played every position along the offensive line for the Steelers during the preseason, and has now started regular season games at both right guard (the season finale in 2017) and right tackle (Week Three and Week Eight of the 2018 season).
The interesting thing is that Feiler’s weekly focus is typically on playing at guard and center, and that has been his primary focus for the past couple of years after he was initially signed to play tackle here. He is one of two interior-capable backups on the roster in addition to B.J. Finney. Okorafor and Zach Banner are tackle-only linemen at the moment.
Which results in Feiler usually being a healthy scratch during games, Finney being the top interior reserve and Okorafor the swing tackle. Yet it’s the older lineman who has been called upon to start twice now when he has a full week to prepare for the game.
He had a pretty good game earlier this season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which the Steelers won by a score of 30-27. He was even better on Sunday at home against the Cleveland Browns, which the team won 33-18.
“I think the Tampa game was something I could look back on”, he said, “and kind of settle myself down, calm myself down and talk my way through certain things”. In the prior game, he didn’t even have David DeCastro, also out along with Marcus Gilbert, to lean on, instead working with Finney at right guard.
But Feiler and DeCastro seemed to work in sync on Sunday against the Browns. And the former undrafted free agent only continues to further prove his worth. Heading into the season, offensive line coach Mike Munchak said of him that they already believe in him as a guard, but they want to see what else he can do for them.
Now he is not about to make Gilbert expendable nor become the heir apparent to a starting job—the 21-year-old Okorafor would be a prime candidate with two tackles over the age of 30—but good teams are built around quality depth such as that which he provides.