Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers are getting into actual practices, rather than just walkthroughs, and soon full-contact sessions with pads, the real work of training camp is beginning, particularly with respect to the determination of the few roles that remain unsettled.
The offensive line is arguably the area of the roster that is most up for grabs in terms of significant jobs to be won, but perhaps it is less so than what was previously thought a few months ago. On Thursday, head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed that the team is focused on having Matt Feiler at left guard this season.
After Stefen Wisniewski signed with the team as an unrestricted free agent early in the offseason, he said that he was told he would be given the opportunity to compete for a starting job, and the only one available to him would be the spot vacated by Ramon Foster at left guard.
That may be only a technicality, however, with Tomlin saying that the team has “been looking exclusively at Matt Feiler at left guard”. Basically, the only way that Wisniewski will be ‘competing’ for a starting job is if both Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor fail to grab a hold of the starting right tackle position, which would force the Steelers to adjust and move Feiler back over there.
Now, it should be noted that this could actually be the result of plans changing in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Without the benefit of a full offseason, and without the totality of the preseason, it’s difficult to get a feel for new faces, even veterans with over 100 starts under their belts like Wisniewski.
So if the Steelers see the lineup with Feiler at guard and one of the young guys at tackle and it looks good in a practice setting, they can be more confident that what they see will translate onto the field, because they know these players’ body of work firsthand for multiple seasons.
With all this being said, it was understood at the start of the offseason that the most likely outcome would result in Feiler moving full-time to left guard to take over Foster’s spot, a move set up by the loss of B.J. Finney in free agency.
While he has made 25 starts at right tackle, Feiler has also started two games at guard, including one last season, and he has played the position extensively over the course of his six previous offseasons, even going back to his rookie year with the Houston Texans.
Whether or not he can play guard is not the question; rather, it’s about whether or not either Okorafor, who has started two games at right tackle, or Banner can handle playing the position over the span of a 16-game season, and also potentially over a period of years.
Either way, both Feiler and Banner are unrestricted free agents after this season, as is Alejandro Villanueva, so the line will be different in 2021 anyway, in perhaps the most dramatic fashion that we have seen in years.