Perhaps the biggest reason that the state of the offensive line and the subtle iterations through which it has gone this offseason hasn’t been talked about more for the Pittsburgh Steelers is for the simple level of comfort that exists within the group.
Barring any major injuries, there is no reason for concern, or so the thought process goes. They return four of the five players who started the season opener, and all of the five players who saw the most action with the group, that fifth being Matt Feiler.
After starting 10 games last season, Feiler is the favorite to take over the starting right tackle job this season, and he has spent much of the spring and summer working with the first-team line in that spot. But especially lately, he has been seeing a lot of work at guard, where he made his first career start in the 2017 regular season finale. Mike Tomlin commented on that duality during his pre-game press conference yesterday.
“We like some of these young tackles”, he said in explaining why Feiler, in competition for the starting right tackle job, was working so much at guard. “They’ve done well in the groups that they’re working in, so we want to get a chance to evaluate them against stiffer competition. But at the same time, we want to give him reps and keep him ready to go. He’s guard-capable, so to be able to serve both masters if you will by doing so”.
Feiler began the 2018 season as a healthy inactive as the number two interior reserve and number two swing tackle for in-game situations, but when Marcus Gilbert went down for an extended period, the coaching staff wanted a more veteran player to step in over the relatively inexperienced rookie, Chukwuma Okorafor.
With Gilbert being traded this offseason, Feiler and Okorafor set out to compete for the right tackle position, with Jerald Hawkins also being paid lip service to, and Zach Banner lurking in the background. With injuries to the line, however, Okorafor ended up starting the preseason opener at left tackle, Banner at right, with Feiler playing left guard.
Asked where Feiler will start in tomorrow’s game—David DeCastro remains out of practice”, Tomlin said, “we’re not ready to make those discussions”. It’s been a bit of an interesting situation for the third-year pro, given the expectations entering the offseason.
Feiler had spent most of the past few offseasons actually working at guard, and even center, getting very little work at tackle in training camp and the preseason prior to hitting the regular season, where he would be called into action there.
The thought was that his ability to focus on one position this year would help to continue to accelerate his growth at tackle, but he hasn’t actually gotten that opportunity for stability as much as planned. Still, he remains the clear front-runner, but for the time being, the younger tackles, such as Okorafor and Banner, are getting better looks than they might otherwise receive, which is important for the position’s overall depth.