There probably isn’t a team in the NFL that doesn’t have some level of competition for starting jobs in their training camp this year. it’s almost impossible to return 25 starters, including special teams, from one year to the next, for a variety of reasons. The Pittsburgh Steelers are no different, even if they are one of the more stable franchises.
With the retirement of Ramon Foster, the biggest question is how to reconfigure the offensive line. They could plug in free agent signing Stefen Wisniewski at left guard, where Foster played. Or they are looking into moving starting right tackle Matt Feiler inside, with an eye toward one of their young tackles moving into the starting lineup.
Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was asked about this impending decision, and of Mike Tomlin’s comment that Feiler would take the first snaps of camp at guard. “I think anything’s possible for sure. You want to give the best opportunity for us to move in this kind of time period, given just the reps. I think it is the prudent thing to do”, he said of starting Feiler at guard, with Wisniewski new to the team.
A former undrafted free agent, Feiler spent three seasons on practice squads before finally making the Steelers’ 53-man roster in 2017. He was primarily a guard during the offseason processes of years past, but injuries resulted in him starting 10 games at right tackle in 2018. He was the full-time starter there last season, but he also was moved inside to start one game at left guard while Foster was injured. His first career start came in 2017 at right guard in a season finale.
“I do know Matt is very intelligent. Matt is very physical. Matt had, in my opinion, a hell of a football season last year”, Fichtner said of the fourth-year lineman, who will be an unrestricted free agent next year. “He’s going to be successful whether inside or out, and if he puts himself in a position that we feel comfortable, maybe with one of those younger [tackles] or with one of those younger or experienced guards, we got to play the best five and we got to figure it out quick enough”.
The only way that Feiler can even start inside is if the coaching staff is comfortable with at least one of Chukwuma Okorafor or Zach Banner starting at right tackle. Okorafor, a third-year player, has started two games there in the past. Banner, going into his fourth season, played over 200 snaps last season as an extra lineman.
Both young men are hungry and driven, gunning for the starting job, but the competition was waylaid by the coronavirus, as with so much else in our lives. With no practices throughout the Spring, the starting job will have to be decided within just weeks in training camp, with no more than 14 padded practices, and with no preseason.