The Pittsburgh Steelers have started eight different offensive linemen so far through the first three games of the season. That will hopefully not change through the rest of the year, though it could if Maurkice Pouncey is injured before Stefen Wisniewski returns from injured reserve, as it would likely thrust J.C. Hassenauer into the starting role.
Wisniewski started the season opener because David DeCastro was out with a knee injury. Chukwuma Okorafor moved into the right tackle spot after Zach Banner tore his ACL in week one. DeCastro finally made his debut yesterday. And then there was rookie Kevin Dotson, the rookie fourth-round pick who started in week two as their third-string guard, and had one of the best individual lineman performances of the Steelers’ season so far.
Though the All-Pro’s return sent him back to the bench, DeCastro offered some words of praise for the man who most recently took his place. “He played awesome”, he told reporters earlier today about Dotson’s performance against the Denver Broncos last week.
“He really impressed as a rookie, and playing offensive line is a tough position for a rookie to come in and play in this league. I think he’s got a pretty solid career ahead of him”, he added—without noting that left guard Matt Feiler will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021. “I’m happy for him”.
DeCastro should know about playing as a rookie. While he was supposed to be a day-one rookie starter, he suffered a friendly-fire MCL injury that cost him most of the season. He did return to play in the last three games, but he struggled, and it wasn’t really until the second half of year two that he began to play to the form that we’ve come to expect.
That is, of course, as one of the top guards in the NFL. He has made the Pro Bowl every year since 2015, and has been an All-Pro three times. He hasn’t been included on the All-Pro list in the past two seasons, but I surely feel that he got snubbed in 2018 in favor of the Browns’ Joel Bitonio.
DeCastro, now 30, is under contract through next season, as are Pouncey and Okorafor. Feiler, Banner, and Alejandro Villanueva are all going to be unrestricted free agents in March, and it’s not unreasonable to think that all of them could be gone. With his injury, Banner may be back, but Villanueva and Feiler could certainly find more money on the open market.
Don’t be shocked if this is what the starting five looks like a year from now, from left to right:
There you have two perennial Pro Bowlers and three players with a combined six starts, one of whom is not even under contract for next season. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves, especially with Dotson. He played a good game. Let’s wait and see how he looks when he gets a second opportunity.