Pittsburgh Steelers third-year offensive lineman Matt Feiler started 10 of 16 games last season at right tackle. He has played the majority of the first-team reps in spring practices at right tackle. But he isn’t taking anything for granted in terms of where he might line up—or if he will line up—and the team opens its regular season schedule.
A former undrafted free agent, Feiler first joined the Steelers in 2015 after spending a year on the Houston Texans’ practice squad. He would end up spending the 2015 and 2016 seasons on the Steelers’ practice squad as well before finally making the team outright in 2017. He would remain a backup, often inactive in the second half of the year, until the season finale, when he was allowed to start for a resting David DeCastro at right guard.
Even though Marcus Gilbert was injured a lot in 2017, the Steelers still had Chris Hubbard at that time. Feiler spent the first half of that year as Hubbard’s backup when he was starting, but a year later, he would be in that position, and started all but one of the games Gilbert missed, only because he too was nicked up.
Yet in spite of the fact that he played well when given the chance and the reality that the Steelers are giving him every opportunity to retain that job, he isn’t focused on that right now. His only priority is putting his best foot forward, because worrying about whether or not he’s going to start is not actually going to help him reach that goal. The work is.
“It doesn’t feel any different” from last season or previous years, he told Mike Prisuta for the team’s website, even though he has been working with the first-team offense most of the time, which is new. “The job is always on the line. You have to keep on working to improve every day”.
He said that “you’re getting pushed by the younger guys” whenever you’re out on the field. It wasn’t so long ago that he was one of the younger guys, though he turns 27 today. The chief young guy he’s being pushed by—and the youngest young guy—his second-year former third-round pick Chukwuma Okorafor, the guy who started the one game he didn’t while Gilbert was out last year.
Okorafor, from what I can gather, is the only other player who took first-team reps at right tackle so far this spring, even though Jerald Hawkins has been talked about as being in the competition as well, and even Zach Banner could throw his hat in the ring.
Feiler called the job “up for grabs”, but the reality is that it’s almost assuredly going to come down to Feiler and Okorafor, and the veteran is likely going to be given the upper hand to some degree, as we’ve already seen in the spring. And not just because he’s the veteran, but because he’s already done the job, and done it at a competent level.