The Pittsburgh Steelers have started three different players at right tackle so far through the first 11 games of the 2018 regular season. At least for the moment, it’s rather unclear which of those three will be starting for them on Sunday when they play host to the Los Angeles Chargers in a big primetime game.
Eighth-year veteran Marcus Gilbert has been a full-time starter since the second game of his career thanks to a season-ending injury to then-starter Willie Colon, who was moved to guard the following season. He has been out for the past five weeks, and has missed six games overall this year.
Second-year Matt Feiler made the first five starts in his place, but after suffering a pectoral injury and only finishing the week of practice on a limited basis, he dressed for Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos but did not play.
It was third-round rookie Chukwuma Okorafor who started in the contest, seeing his first significant time as an offensive lineman in his career. In the aftermath, he self-evaluated, “I think I did a decent job,” overall, but admits there were “a couple plays I wish I had back, like three plays. But [overall] I think I did a good job”, he told reporters.
That was similar to the assessments his coaches and teammates gave him after the game ended, which should boost the confidence level in the 21-year-old should he have to start again. While he has been the game-day active swing tackle, and Feiler a healthy scratch when the line has been fully healthy, they still opted for the older veteran, even though he had never started at tackle before and had just one career start entering this season.
On who will be lining up next to David DeCastro next week, Okorafor said, “I have no idea; I don’t know if it’s Gil, Matt, or me. We will see what’s going to happen. Whether it’s Gil or Matt or I go, we all want the game—we all want to win”.
The Steelers went 5-0 in the five games that Feiler started this season. They were 2-2-1 in the five games Gilbert started, and are currently 0-1 when Okorafor starts. Of course, the play of the right tackle position was not a key, let alone deciding factor in any of those losses or the tie.
It’s worth noting that Gilbert, who will turn 31 in February, is entering the final year of his contract in 2019, and Alejandro Villanueva, also 30, has two years left on his deal. The Steelers have stockpiled younger tackle-capable players now in Feiler, Okorafor, Zach Banner, and Jerald Hawkins, who was in-line to be the swing tackle this season before suffering a season-ending injury at the start of OTAs.