Even though he was obviously healthy enough to dress, the Pittsburgh Steelers elected to start rookie Chukwuma Okorafor in yesterday’s game over Matt Feiler, who has been dealing with a pectoral injury that he suffered last week. Feiler had started the previous four games as an injury fill-in for Marcus Gilbert.
Perhaps they were only comfortable enough which his health for an emergency situation, which explains why Zach Banner was not made active yet Feiler didn’t start, but whatever the case may be, the 21-year-old rookie out of Western Michigan was given the opportunity to play, and aside from a hiccup or two late, seemed to have acquitted himself pretty well in the first extended action of his career.
With two tackles hitting the age of 30, the Steelers used a third-round pick on Okorafor seeing a raw talent that Mike Munchak could potentially mold into being a very good football player who could start somewhere down the line. Yesterday offered no evidence to the contrary.
He did give up a sack late to Von Miller, and was also flagged for a false start, but an initial impression of his performance did not indicate that he was a liability during the game. In fact, the offense was able to pretty consistently move the football up and down the field throughout the game, even if they failed far too often to get into the end zone.
Said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after the game, “I wish we could have done if for him. He stepped in and played a great football game”. Roethlisberger was sacked twice in the game, but generally had good protection throughout the night on about 60 dropbacks.
“The line was awesome”, he said of his blocking quintet as a whole. “It is not an easy place to play. It is loud. They’ve got two of the best pass rushers in the game and the guys gave me time today. They were awesome. This game was not on the line, I promise you that”.
It’s probably not too often that you can say that for a team that is starting its third-string right tackle against Miller, who would finish the game credited with two assisted tackles and a shared sack with defensive lineman Shelby Harris.
The last time the Steelers faced the Denver Broncos in the regular season, Gilbert was healthy, and he and the team held Miller to zero statistical output throughout the game. He did a little better this time, but was still far from taking over the game.
Of course the team did a nice job of providing help for Okorafor throughout the game, frequently leaving a tight end on his side to throw a chip block and things of that nature. We will surely be taking a closer look at the rookie’s game later in the week to get a better impression of just how he played.