The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered a blow for sure when right tackle Zach Banner went down with what is presumed to be a season-ending knee injury late in their opening victory over the New York Giants on Monday. But Banner was in what was described as a close competition for the job just weeks ago, with Chukwuma Okorafor, and most anticipate that he will move into the starting lineup.
Will he, though? For the entire year? Head coach Mike Tomlin may have implied on Tuesday that that remains to be seen, at least once the offensive line, minus Banner, gets back to full strength, with David DeCastro and Stefen Wisniewski also working their way back from injuries.
During his pre-game press conference two days ago, Tomlin was asked not only to assess Feiler’s performance in his third-career start at guard, but also asked if he would be the first option to move back to tackle due to injury.
“We are making some moves on the offensive line, so I won’t speculate on what that depth or the pecking order will be until we handle that necessary business”, he told the reporter who asked that question. “I do know that he is tackle capable and so I’m sure that will be an element of the discussion at the appropriate time”.
In the meantime, the Steelers signed Jerald Hawkins, a former fourth-round pick of theirs, off of the Houston Texans’ practice squad to serve as depth. And the team is also bracing for the possibility that another fourth-round pick, rookie Kevin Dotson, has to start at right guard if neither DeCastro nor Wisniewski are healthy enough to go.
But let’s say both of them make it back, maybe not this week but the week after. And then Okorafor begins to struggle at right tackle. What would it take to pull the plug and move Feiler back over to right tackle, where he started 25 games between the 2018-19 seasons?
It’s certainly more likely after Banner’s injury. And while it remains to be seen, he may be the first option to serve as the backup tackle in the result of injury. Surely they have more confidence in him, and in their backup interior offensive linemen, particularly Wisniewski, than they do of Hawkins, who just returned to the team and has never exactly established himself in the NFL.
Of course, the Steelers would like to avoid this scenario if at all possible, but they will not forget about Feiler’s flexibility, either. It’s a safety net against disaster in the result of there being an issue on the outside, while being more comfortable in their interior depth.