In case you missed it on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers started two former undrafted free agents at their two tackle positions against the Cleveland Browns and both players, Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Fieler, represented themselves well in that contest. During his Tuesday weekly radio interview on 93.7 The Fan, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was asked to comment on the Sunday play of both Villanueva and Feiler and his response included some well-deserved praise.
“Al’s kind of a guy that just keeps getting better, that doesn’t have all of the experience, but just keeps getting better,” Roethlisberger said of Villanueva, who has now made 49 consecutive starts at left tackle for the Steelers. “And Matt’s a guy that as we saw in the Tampa game, stepped in for Gil [starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert] and did awesome against a really good pass rush on the road. Same thing this week, he had to go against a good pass rush. It’s nice to be at home as that helps, but Matt’s a guy that sometimes when you have a new lineman come in, as a quarterback you always kind of have an eye on that spot and other linemen are always trying to help him.
“When Matt comes in, no one’s blinking, no one’s thinking twice. Dave’s [starting right guard David DeCastro] not thinking, ok, I’ve got to help to my right more. You trust that he’s going to get the job done and he’s done it. And I think that it speaks for the preparation time that he put in both in practice and the film study and his work in the weight room and during the practice on the practice field. And so I’m really proud of the way that, that he’s been stepping up and playing.”
Sunday against the Browns marked the second time this season that Feiler started at right tackle in place of an injured Gilbert and while he certainly wasn’t perfect in either contest, he’s yet to allow a sack and has only given up 4 total pressures. During his Tuesday press conference, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin went out of his way to praise the play of Feiler after first updating the health status of Gilbert.
“I also would mention that Matt, who filled in in place of him [Gilbert], did more than a serviceable job,” Tomlin said of Feiler’s play against the browns on Sunday. “But we’ve come to expect that from Matt as we have the others. You know, we don’t have backups, we have starters and starters in waiting and the standard is the standard of expectation. And so guys like Matt and B.J. Finney and others, and there have been many already this year, make that phrase reality with their above the line performances and we are appreciative of that.”
We’ll have to wait and see if Gilbert will be healthy enough to return for Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens. If h’s ultimately not, we can expect to see Feiler make another start at right tackle. Feiler, who is position flexible, entered the NFL originally with the Houston Texans as an undraftred free agent out of Bloomsburg University. After spending most of the 2015 and 2016 seasons on the Steelers practice squad, he made Pittsburgh’s 53-man roster in 2017 and has been on it ever since.
As for Villanueva, he had strong showing on Sunday against Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, Cleveland’s former first-round draft pick. Outside of a first quarter sack that Garrett had against Villanueva, he remained close to a non-factor the remainder of the game. Villanueva also had previously done a good job of holding Garrett in reasonable check in the Week 1 game between the two teams as I pointed out in a post several weeks ago.