Outside of the inevitable uncertainty over Ben Roethlisberger’s health and how he will be able to perform coming off of elbow surgery, arguably the biggest question in terms of impact for the Pittsburgh Steelers on the 2020 season is how the offensive line is going to be composed.
Although there is technically only one starting job open, which position that is is not even concrete, even if the player who will be playing the opposite position is: Matt Feiler will start at either left guard or right tackle. Wherever he starts, a possibly entirely separate group of contenders will compete for the other position.
I think a lot of people are leaning toward Feiler moving inside and taking over the left guard position, which since the end of the 2012 season had been dominated by Ramon Foster. The 11-year veteran announced his retirement this offseason, however, leaving the spot open. Feiler started one game there last year.
The game he started there, Chukwuma Okorafor started at right tackle. The third-year tackle has two starts there now, and will be competing with fourth-year Zach Banner, who despite lacking playing time at tackle out-snapped Okorafor in 2019, playing over 200 snaps as the tackle-eligible tight end. The game Okorafor started is the only one for which he dressed.
Both of these players have been in the Steelers’ system for two years now. They would hope that they can by now rely upon at least one of them to show themselves to be a starter-capable player. That’s partly what they’re banking on, but if not, they still have Feiler.
Said general manager Kevin Colbert about his young tackles following the 2020 NFL Draft, “I think we’ve watched Chuks and Zach grow over the last couple years, and I think there is a comfort level that both of those guys are NFL tackles. At what level, we’ll see, because they’ve been backups and spot starters and package players, but we’re comfortable with where they are”.
I, too, am comfortable with where they are, but where they will be is yet to be determined. Will it be in the starting lineup? With a limited offseason, there will be even less data to work with than normal, but one hopes that the league can at least fit in a preseason before starting to play meaningful games in 2020.
Feiler wasn’t in a much different place from where either Okorafor or Banner were when he got his first start in 2018 for the injured Marcus Gilbert. He would go on to start 10 games that year, and all 16 this past season, 15 being a right tackle.
Despite his ability to play effectively at that spot, the Steelers want to see him at left guard—not because they think he would be better there, but because it would mean that the line is better as a whole.