Whether or not the Pittsburgh Steelers line up with their third different starting right tackle this season will depend largely upon how Matt Feiler is feeling today after he returned to practice on a limited basis yesterday. It seems quite likely that Marcus Gilbert will be missing at least another week at this point, so failing Feiler’s health, 21-year-old rookie tackle Chukwuma Okorafor would be the one to line up in that spot on Sunday against Von Miller and the Denver Broncos.
Naturally, it has been a major source of discussion over the course of the past few days, so it’s no surprise that offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was asked about Okorafor as well, and of the potential of him actually playing and starting along the offensive line.
“He’s a big, strong, young guy”, he said, per the team’s communications department. “I say young because he is. I mean, he’s got his footing. He’s had to play. We’ve put him in positions to play. We’ve done that in the past with other developing linemen. So it’s not going to be foreign being in the huddle with Ben. That’s always the first thing you think about when you put a rookie in with him”.
He is referring to the several dozen snaps that Okorafor has already played this season as a tackle-eligible tight end, a role that varies in importance from week to week based on the given opponent and the in-game circumstances.
Fichtner emphasized the importance of the fact that he is not new to working with the starters, and has said that he asks Ben Roethlisberger about how he looks when he’s in the game regarding his demeanor. “He’s been in there. We’ve already had those discussions”, he said. “Now he’s just got a bigger role that he’ll have to be ready to fill”.
And fortunately he will have plenty of help should that happen, because he will be playing alongside a perennial All-Pro in right guard David DeCastro. “What a blessing that is to have an All-Pro guard right next to him with that communication”, Fichtner said.
“They’ve worked together. We take turns. Just like we do with Ben, on Wednesdays and Thursdays, some with our offensive line, resting some of the elder [linemen]. So that rotation in there, they get reps with the first team. So it’s not like he hasn’t been in there before. But having Dave in there makes me sleep better at night, but they still have to do it on game day”.
It does seem that there is cautious optimism about Feiler having the opportunity to play, so perhaps they will not have to rely on Okorafor just yet. Feiler has started the past four games, and five of 10 so far this season, and the team hasn’t much missed a beat with him in the lineup. Could the rookie do the same?