The Pittsburgh Steelers are just coming off a game in which they faced a team starting their fourth different tackle on the left side, that being the Jacksonville Jaguars. On Sunday, they could be a team starting their third different tackle on the right side. But the difference is that I have confidence they won’t be giving up six sacks.
With Marcus Gilbert remaining sidelined with a knee injury, and his replacement Matt Feiler missing yesterday’s practice due to a pectoral injury suffered reportedly on the team’s final drive on Sunday, it was rookie Chukwuma Okorafor lining up next to David DeCasto at the right tackle spot for Wednesday’s practice.
We’ll have to see if that changes over the course of the next couple of days, especially as it pertains to Feiler, whose injury has seemingly been deemed minor, but the Steelers are not shying away from the possibility of having the rookie in the starting lineup.
That will be in part because of exactly the plan that they have had in place for him all season, and one that they have followed with many of their young offensive linemen over the course of the past seven seasons. Because Okorafor has already seen action in the form of dozens of snaps to date, active for every game and playing in most of them.
It would be the tackle-eligible role that I’m referring to, in which the team uses an additional offensive lineman as a tight end to get another big body on the field. They almost always, you know, block, but once in a while…well, you never know.
Okorafor didn’t get on the field much in Sunday’s game, just two snaps, since the Steelers didn’t have much opportunity to run the ball, but one of those two plays was a seven-yard run by James Conner on second and six.
The rookie lineman has been on the field as an extra blocker for 48 rushing plays, and while the Steelers have only averaged 3.2 yards per rush in those instances, they frequently came in short-yardage situations. There is no better indicator of that reality than the fact that he has been on the field for six of Conner’s eight red zone touchdowns.
Should Okorafor end up starting, the tackle-eligible role will fall to B.J. Finney, who saw time there for a couple of games last season while Chris Hubbard was in the starting lineup in place of Gilbert.