No matter how things play out, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have a new full-time starting offensive lineman in the lineup for the 2020 season. That will either be a veteran with over 100 career starts who is new to the team, or a younger lineman without much experience who nevertheless has a couple of years in the system.
Both approaches will present their own problems, especially this offseason with the limitations that this unique offseason presents. In spite of the fact that Stefen Wisniewski has been in the league for a long time and has been on four different teams, and thus different systems, even stepping in mid-season with the Chiefs last year, even he has acknowledged that there have been drawbacks.
“It’s an adjustment. I am still learning the plays”, he told Teresa Varley of the virtual offseason. “I meet with my coach and teammates a few hours a day, going through the play install, learning the name of everything. I am learning the calls we make at the line, the lingo. I am not able to do drills. Normally I would be doing drills, learning and working on the technique the Steelers use. That is the biggest difference, biggest drawback. At the end of the day you want to know what the guy next to you is thinking. The best way to do that is to get a lot of reps with them next to you”.
Of course, not being able to get that work in doesn’t mean it will be skipped over entirely. The NFL still have every intention of conducting a full training camp for every team, and that is, frankly, where the bulk of the work in the trenches comes in, even if Spring practices do often focus on the fundamentals and techniques like Wisniewski mentioned.
Still, the fact is that he was able to step in with the Chiefs last year and start…albeit eventually. While he was signed midseason, he didn’t really play until the end of the year, and he ended up starting the final five games, including the three postseason games that led to their first Super Bowl title in franchise history.
The alternative to Wisniewski starting is moving Matt Feiler from right tackle to left guard. He has one career start there (and another at right guard), though he has also worked at guard, and even center, at various points in each of his five previous offseasons with the team.
That change will beget another, because it will mean that either Zach Banner or Chukwuma Okorafor will start at right tackle. The former logged about 200 snaps as a tackle-eligible last year. The former has two career starts at right tackle. Not a lot to go on.
It’s not the greatest offseason to be making shuffles in your starting lineup, but the Steelers are making fewer changes than most, and for that they should be grateful.