The Pittsburgh Steelers have called upon eight different offensive linemen to start at game so far this season. First it was B.J. Finney as a backup moving into the lineup when David DeCastro missed two games early in the year. Matt Feiler has filled in for two separate injuries suffered by Marcus Gilbert at right tackle.
The third backup, and eighth lineman to start a game, was Chukwuma Okorafor, making his starting debut on Sunday against the Denver Broncos with Feiler dealing with a pectoral issue while Gilbert has remained sidelined. As we have discussed already throughout the week, he did not do himself a disservice, given the circumstances.
The team gave him a lot of help, of course, and simply playing alongside an All-Pro player as David DeCastro is a big asset for the rookie, but the seventh-year guard has come away impressed with what he has seen from Okorafor since he was drafted in the third round.
“Chuks is good. The rookie year is tough. You learn a lot, not just football stuff”, DeCastro said. He himself missed most of his rookie season in 2012 with a torn MCL. He wouldn’t really start coming into his own until 2014, but has become a Pro Bowl fixture since.
“He’s a young guy, he’s got the body type, he’s got the ability and weapons and now he’s just learning the game”, he added of the 21-year-old Nigerian-born player. “It took me some time to learn the game at this level, and he’s got a great coach, got a great group and we’re doing the best to coach him up”.
That great coach would be Mike Munchak, who has a number of scores under his belt. Both DeCastro and Gilbert really started to prosper in 2014 when Munchak first came on board. He also started developing Alejandro Villanueva during that time, and since has turned Feiler, Finney, and previously Chris Hubbard into capable players.
Who knows what the future holds for Okorafor right now. As a third-round selection, the Steelers would probably like to see him next in line to take over one of the starting tackle positions from either of their 30-year-old starters.
But neither he nor the team is in a hurry. “There’s really no rush in playing me right now”, he admitted. “Whichever way they see fit for me, in terms of playing once or all the snaps, it doesn’t really matter to me at this point. I just have to keep on playing better every week and see what happens”.
For the time being, he figures to go back to his tackle-eligible role with Feiler having returned to practice, Gilbert remaining out. Next offseason should be interesting with those two , Zach Banner, and Jerald Hawkins all pushing one another.