The transformation of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line began in earnest in 2010 when they used a first-round selection on center Maurkice Pouncey, who would immediately usurp the struggling veteran, Justin Hartwig. Investment in the position continued to drive their thoughts, adding right tackle Marcus Gilbert in the second round in 2011, then right guard David DeCastro a year later.
The investment was also made in Mike Adams in the second round that year. While he faltered, seventh-round pick Kelvin Beachum, instead, emerged as their left tackle, until he parted in free agency. He was replaced by Alejandro Villanueva, a former college free agent, and he lines up next to the most veteran player on the line at left guard, Ramon Foster: another former college free agent.
Soon, the Steelers’ starting offensive line may consist of a pair of All-Pro first-round picks in the middle paired with three great stories in college free agents, if third-year Matt Feiler wins the right tackle job after Gilbert was traded earlier this offseason.
Feiler was originally signed by the Houston Texans, and spent 2014—yes, 2014—on their practice squad before the Steelers added him a year later. He would spend the next two years on their practice squad, ultimately losing future eligibility, before finally making the team in 2017. He started the season finale that year at right guard and then started 10 games at right tackle in 2018.
In many ways, Feiler’s journey reminds Foster of his, though it took longer for the former’s to get going—perhaps in part because the Steelers’ offensive line is much deeper than it was a decade ago.
“It reminds me of my process”, Foster told Jacob Klinger during OTAs. “It reminds me of a guy that, if he continues to work hard, certain stuff will come his way. And this is just one of them”.
Foster originally signed with the Steelers out of Tennessee in 2009. He made the 53-man roster on his first try, and for years, he would earn the occasional spot start as injuries arose. He would not secure a full-time starting job for himself until his fifth season in 2013. He started every game in 2012, but that was after DeCastro suffered a torn MCL in the preseason. He started the first 13 games at right guard and then moved to the left side, where he has played since, during the last three games after Willie Colon was injured.
Feiler could follow a similar path to a starting job, but he will have his hands full. While he has been taking the bulk of the first-team reps, he has to compete with second-year former third-round pick Chukwuma Okorafor, who had an encouraging rookie season in 2018 and even started one game while Feiler was nicked up.
Feiler told Klinger that seeing how the likes of Foster and Villanueva had to come up to get where they are, and the work that they put in, “kind of motivates you to do the same thing”. I think it’s fair to say that if he does start, barring injuries, it will have been through the product of his labors and nothing else.