It won’t be long now before the Pittsburgh Steelers begin rolling into Latrobe, PA to make Saint Vincent College their home away from home for several weeks as the summer winds down. That is when we know that training camp has begun, and with it the first deep breaths of the 2019 NFL season.
Everything that we have experienced up until now, from the re-signings, releases, and trades to the draft and all the way through OTAs and minicamp, has been but a preview, the setup, for what is to come next.
And so we too continue to preview what comes next in a series in which we will highlight several of the battles for roster spots and roles that we expect to see during our time observing in training camp and throughout the preseason.
Position: Offensive Line
Up for Grabs: Depth
In the Mix: Matt Feiler, Chukwuma Okorafor, B.J. Finney, Jerald Hawkins, Zach Banner, Derwin Gray, Damian Prince, Patrick Morris, J.C. Hassenauer, Fred Johnson, Garrett Brumfield
Yeah, there are a lot of names. In some capacity, at some point this offseason, or last season, we have heard something good about every one of these linemen. Morris was on the practice squad last year, for example. Prince beat out the other lineman who was on the practice squad. Ramon Foster gave a shoutout to the last two on the list above back in the spring. Hassenauer got some second-team center reps. Hawkins and Gray have shown position versatility. The other are established or competing for starting roles.
What’s interesting is that the first domino that needs to fall is the battle for the right tackle job. If Feiler wins, then he’s going to be limited to playing right tackle all season unless he gets benched, and Okorafor, for the moment, lacks interior versatility.
So if Okorafor is the swing tackle, that makes interior and interior-capable players more attractive as a number eight or nine lineman, which would cover at some level literally everyone above short of Prince and Banner.
If Okorafor wins the job, however, that really opens things up and allows the team to carry their best nine linemen, because Feiler can easily play both inside and outside, and in fact in recent years has taken more practice reps inside. He already has a quality start under his belt at right guard. That would be a big help to Prince or Banner, and for Hawkins and Gray as well, who had never played guard prior to this spring.
One thing I’m interested in seeing is how much they would value having a third legitimate center on the 53-man roster, the two candidates being Morris and Hassenauer. Both are also capable of playing guard, of course, but Finney is already there as the top reserve for all three interior spots.
Bottom line is there’s a lot to sort out this year, and I think this is one of the most interesting areas of the roster right now, with one of the deepest groups from top to bottom as they’ve had for as long as I can recall. On paper, anyway.