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 has been taking the most reps at right tackle?
The Steelers have been clear that they are holding an open competition for the starting right tackle job this offseason following the team’s decision to trade long-time starter Marcus Gilbert. Gilbert was the oldest starter on the line short of Ramon Foster, and had the lengthiest injury history in recent years, so that move was not a shock based on his salary cap hit and the options to replace him.
More often than not, however, an open competition still comes with an early favorite. And usually that favorite is the one who takes the first and most prominent reps. My guess would be that Matt Feiler was given the opportunity to continue his role from last season, when he started 10 games at right tackle, but I haven’t seen confirmation of that.
The other two named contenders are second-year Chukwuma Okorafor, last year’s third-round draft pick, and Jerald Hawkins, a fourth-year player who was supposed to be in Feiler’s position a year ago were it not for a torn quad suffered nearly a year ago.
Okorafor did make one start last year at right tackle when Feiler himself was dealing with an injury. While he was given extra assistance during that game, he was regarded as having held his own for most of the time against Von Miller and the Denver Broncos.
As mentioned, Hawkins was supposed to be the swing tackle last year until he was injured. He would have been in the position to start the games that Feiler and Okorafor got to start with Gilbert being sidelined for most of the year, and had that been the case, perhaps there would not even be a competition right now.
It was the fact that the team felt it had multiple options that they felt they had the luxury of moving Gilbert and his salary, however, so they’re taking advantage of that depth and hoping that the best candidate emerges. Will it be the one who gets the first shot?