Marcus Gilbert hasn’t practiced since the week leading up to the Carolina Panthers game. He hasn’t played since before the bye week. Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin did not rule out the possibility of the veteran offensive lineman being healthy enough to play this week; however, he also didn’t commit to him starting.
Asked if Gilbert would automatically go back into the starting lineup if available, Tomlin told reporters earlier today that “it depends on what he looks like. First he’s got to get medical clearance, and then we base it on his performance. So it’s availability and performance”.
He added that it’s “not exclusive to him”, that “it’s the same for James Conner or anybody else that we’ve kind of talked about in this capacity, and that’s why I’m thoughtful about the words that I say every week. We’ll let his availability be our guide, and then the quality of his work within that availability”.
Complicating matters for Gilbert is the fact that the offensive line really hasn’t seen much of a drop-off in performance during the time in which he has been sidelined, even considering their current three-game losing streak.
The Steelers’ primary right tackle this season, having now started seven of their 13 games, is second-year Matt Feiler, who has been a surprise performer and has really started to gain comfort and consistency as he has gotten more and more reps at the position, both in practices and in games.
Gilbert is certainly the more athletic option at the position, and by far the most experienced, but he also has not played a game in months at this point, and in the meantime the offense has established a certain rhythm within the current makeup of the blockers upfront, which includes Feiler playing alongside David DeCastro on the right side of the offensive line.
The fact that the Steelers have failed to win a game over the course of the past three weeks may play into Gilbert’s favor, even though the losses certainly cannot be blamed on the performances of Feiler and Chukwuma Okorafor, who had to start a few games ago while the former was dealing with a pectoral injury.
Gilbert has missed eight games this season, but only last season, he is working now on seven in a row. The longest single stretch of games that he missed in 2017 was four, and that was due to a suspension, not an injury.
Such a long layoff due to health is a much more complicated matter with regard to returning to play and playing at a level that is conducive to winning, globally speaking, obviously.
Of course, we still have yet to see if this will even be a relevant question for this week. As Tomlin said, Gilbert still needs to receive medical clearance. Being able to practice tomorrow would be the necessary first step.