With our series breaking down each position on the roster completed, it’s time to turn our focus on what is going on within each position, and on the roster as a whole. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a closer look at some of the roster battles that we expect to see unfold over the course of training camp as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the start of the 2020 season.
This is not a conventional offseason, of course, for obvious reasons, which is likely to play a role in many of these battles, some in ways that we might not foresee. Generally speaking, it should favor players who have greater experience, but there’s a reason these questions are left unanswered until we get on the field.
Position: Right Tackle
Up for Grabs: Starting Job
In the Mix: Matt Feiler, Chukwuma Okorafor, Zach Banner
For the second year in a row, there is a somewhat open competition for the starting right tackle job, only this time, Matt Feiler doesn’t have to worry about starting. If he doesn’t start at right tackle, he will almost surely start at left guard, adding an important wrinkle to this conversation.
Arguably the biggest determining factor regarding whether Feiler moves to guard or not is the performance of the team’s two younger tackles, Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner. If the Steelers feel comfortable with one of them as a 16-game starter, then that enables Feiler to move inside. If not, then they don’t have any other option but to keep him at right tackle, where he has made 25 of his 27 career starts.
The veteran started 15 games there last season, and the one game he didn’t start at right tackle, he started at left guard, filling in for an injured Ramon Foster, even though B.J. Finney had done so in the previous week and, as always, had done a fine job.
Feiler started 10 of the final 11 games at right tackle in 2018 as well. In both instances regarding the one game he didn’t start, it was Okorafor in the lineup, first as a rookie in 2018 and then as a second-year player last year. The difference is he was the swing tackle and tackle-eligible as a rookie. In 2019, the game he started was the only one for which he dressed.
While that was partly due to some injury issues, it also had a lot to do with Banner and his play in the preseason. He was coveted in that tackle-eligible role and played over 200 snaps doing it. But he didn’t get much work in pass protection there, so that is the question he has to answer.
While the shortened offseason hurts them both, Mike Tomlin has said that Feiler is going to take the first reps of training camp at left guard, so that gives Okorafor and Banner the chance to get the competition started right away.
Banner and Feiler will both be unrestricted free agents in 2020, an important note, while Okorafor is still under his rookie contract in 2021. The Steelers would very much like to see one of the young tackles enter the starting lineup, but this offseason isn’t helping them.