The way that things are currently shaking out, the Pittsburgh Steelers figure to open the 2019 regular season with two well-awarded, high-pedigreed former first-round draft picks at the heart of their offensive line, flanked by a trio of former undrafted free agents who scraped and clawed to get where they are.
Maurkice Pouncey, the first-round pick in 2010, was not immediately plugged into the starting lineup, but it didn’t take him long to start taking first-team reps over Justin Hartwig. David DeCastro, the top pick in 2012, was pretty much plug and play before he tore his MCL in the preseason.
Then there’s Ramon Foster, who’s been here since 2009 but only was awarded a full-time starting position in 2013 after he played very well starting for DeCastro all season in 2012 (he moved to left guard, replacing Willie Colon after he was injured, for the final two games and has remained there since). Never a Pro Bowler, but highly respected, and among the most consistent in the NFL.
Alejandro Villanueva took several years and attempts to even earn a spot on the practice squad, but is now a two-time Pro Bowl left tackle. And now Matt Feiler, who spent three years on practice squads and opened the 2018 season as a healthy scratch, appears set to start at right tackle.
You think that doesn’t get the attention of players like Fred Johnson, Damian Prince, Garrett Brumfield, J.C. Hassenauer, B.J. Finney, and Patrick Morris? The one thing all of them have in common is that they went undrafted. In all cases sans Hassenauer, the Steelers were the team they originally signed with.
Morris out of this group outside of Finney is the only one who was with the team last year, spending the 2018 season on the practice squad. Yesterday, with Pouncey and Finney not participating in or leaving practice, got the opportunity to work with the first-team offense. After practice, he reflected on his time with the Steelers.
“Obviously as an undrafted guy, there’s a harder road, so I like being here because you can see the road has been paved beforehand with (undrafted) guys”, he told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Morris was a regular starter for TCU when he chose to sign with the Steelers following the 2018 NFL Draft. earlier this month, Johnson said that signing with the Steelers was the best decision he ever made.
“Everything definitely feels like more slowed down”, he told Adamski. “My head’s not swimming as much”. He added that his pre-snap awareness of his environment has greatly improved from a year ago, and his reactions post-snap have accelerated.
Morris had his best preseason out of five on Friday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as he looks to edge his way onto the 53-man roster. His ability to play center would be a great asset if he does make it. He played both left guard and center during the game.