Chukwuma Okorafor was the highest offensive lineman that the Pittsburgh Steelers had drafted since they used a second-round pick on Mike Adams back in 2012, one round after they selected David DeCastro in the first.
With 2011 second-round pick Marcus Gilbert having been traded earlier this offseason, it might be local to want to assume that Okorafor would be the logical player to fill that role as he enters his second season, but in actuality, it has been veteran Matt Feiler who has been staking the claim to that job all offseason.
Feiler, originally signing with the Houston Texans following the 2014 NFL Draft as a college free agent, has been with the Steelers since 2015, but first made the roster in 2017. He started at right guard in the season finale that year. In 2018, with Gilbert injured, he emerged as the number three tackle, starting 10 games and playing above the line ball.
He has continued to progress into an even more consistent performer on the perimeter this offseason, whereas in prior years he was moved around more, with an emphasis on the interior. While Okorafor and Zach Banner have been performing reasonably well and Jerald Hawkins has begun to come along, though, Feiler has been looking the part of the starter. That hasn’t changed his mindset about the competition he’s facing, however.
“The guys behind me are pushing me to be my best, and I’ve got to keep pushing every day to be the best. It’s a good competition”, he told the media following a recent training camp practice session. He did say that he feels he has performed the way he wanted to “for the most part”.
“There’s always things to keep on working on, getting better at certain things, but I’m working on that every day, and the younger guys are pushing me to do that”, he added. “I’m always looking to improve, and there’s always room for improvement. I’m trying to work every day”.
Though he has been the primary first-team right tackle, Feiler has also been getting work at guard. As of now, it’s not entirely clear where he will play with the first-team on Friday in the first preseason game, as a number of starting linemen may be rested or held out with minor injuries, including Alejandro Villanueva.
Regardless of what happens this week, there will be plenty of reps for him to absorb at right tackle over the final three preseason games as the competition for the job reaches its fever pitch. So far he has done nothing to indicate that he might be relinquishing that role, but don’t expect to see him take his foot off the gas. Not after spending three years on practice squads.