The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Who will be the Steelers’ starting right tackle in 2019?
Several weeks after Steelers owner Art Rooney II talked about the team’s intention to keep the offensive line intact, they sent one of their starting linemen on their way to a new destination, trading right tackle Marcus Gilbert to the Arizona Cardinals for a late sixth-round draft choice.
Gilbert has the talent to rival the best right tackles in the NFL, and his salary for the position was certainly in-line with his performance level, but he has been hampered by injuries for most of his career, which have reached an exaggerated level over the course of the past two years. He has played less than 40 percent of the Steelers’ snaps over that span.
In the final year of his contract, knowing he can’t be relied upon to be on the field, and with an abundance of young talent at the tackle position, the Steelers decided to move Gilbert, a move that also freed up millions in salary cap space.
Now the question becomes who the starter will be in 2019. In terms of continuity, the safest option would be Matt Feiler, the third-year veteran who started 10 games there last season, but there figures to be an open competition.
Chuks Okorafor was a third-round pick last year and started a game when Feiler was banged up, holding his own. Still just 21 and still learning, it’s plausible he could take a big second-year jump and claim the spot.
But it’s not just those two. There’s still Jerald Hawkins, entering his fourth season. He was supposed to be the swing tackle in 2018 and would have gotten a crack at Feiler’s role had he not gone down all the way back in OTAs. And don’t forget about Zach Banner, a former fourth-round the team picked up in the middle of training camp last year. Among these options, surely, they can cobble together a solid starting line.