As of this writing, Pittsburgh Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert has now assured that he will have missed at least half of the regular season in each of the past two years. Yesterday’s game was the eighth that he has missed in 2018, and the seventh in a row, with no guarantee that his return to the lineup is imminent.
Gilbert has been out with a knee injury since the bye week, and he has not practice since the building to the Week Nine Thursday Night game against the Carolina Panthers. He was a full participant on the first day of practice but slipped to limited the following day, and he has not suited up for a practice since then.
Even coming into yesterday’s game, his primary replacement, Matt Feiler, had already seen more snaps at right tackle in 2018 than had Gilbert. And in fact, the team won his first five starts, only losing finally to the Los Angeles Chargers last week, but the offense still put up 30 points. His rare blemish was a late sack by Joey Bosa on a great inside counter.
Feiler has played quite well in Gilbert’s absence and has looked more and more comfortable almost on a weekly basis. He even had to overcome a minor pectoral injury that prevented him from starting two week ago in the loss to the Denver Broncos.
Obviously we need to hear more, likely tomorrow, from Head Coach Mike Tomlin, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Gilbert’s odds of playing this Sunday against the New England Patriots is going to be low.
With another solid performance yesterday evening against the Oakland Raiders, it’s becoming an increasingly difficult decision to make as to what to do once Gilbert does return healthy—assuming that he does return, since we have no knowledge of the nature of his knee injury.
Gilbert, athletically and skillfully, is the most qualified player to man the position, but he has struggled when returning from injury in the past. Meanwhile, the offensive line has established a rhythm with Feiler as the anchor on the right end, and he has worked well with David DeCastro at right guard.
It would be a difficult decision to pull Feiler from the starting lineup at this point, even though Bob Labriola seems to suggest that that is what he believes would and should happen upon Gilbert’s return.
In my opinion, Feiler has wielded the right tackle position about as well as, or perhaps even better than, Chris Hubbard did for the Steelers for the majority of last season as Gilbert’s replacement for eight-plus games through injury and suspension.
In that case, Gilbert did resume his starting role, but his missed games did not come in such large chunks as this knee injury, and the final four games he missed were due to a suspension, and not injury. Will Feiler get to keep his job? Or will he go back to the inactive list?