When the Pittsburgh Steelers take the field on Monday night against the New York Giants, it will likely feature two players who have never started a game for them in the starting lineup along the offensive line, and a third lineman who is moving to a new permanent starting position.
The team’s starting offensive line from left to right on opening day last year consisted of Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Matt Feiler. The lineup that is expected to take the field in New Jersey will be Villanueva, Feiler, Pouncey, Stefen Wisniewski, and Zach Banner.
Banner, of course, is the permanent new piece. Upon Foster’s retirement, the Steelers moved Feiler from right tackle to left guard, a position it appears likely he will hold for good, at least for the 2020 season. Banner beat out Chukwuma Okorafor, both of whom have been with the team since 2018, to start at right tackle.
Meanwhile, DeCastro is expected to miss the opener with a knee injury, and Wisniewski, a veteran of over 100 career starts who was brought in as an unrestricted free agent, will start in his place. That’s a lot of movement from one season to the next, even if partly temporary, but offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner isn’t overly worried—especially from the linemen’s perspective.
“I think any time that you have a piece that gets changed up front, there’s always that little bit of angst if you will, at least from my perspective”, he said on Thursday, via a transcript from the team’s media department. “I don’t think it’s from their perspective. They work together. They have unique communication”.
He also indicated that the movements of Feiler and Banner to new positions weren’t that big of a deal, and DeCastro missing a game was not as significant as if the center were to be out. “Pouncey ties that whole thing together”, he said. “I think if you would have said Pounce wasn’t sitting here in the middle, then I’d probably say it’s not angst, it’s nervousness. That would be a lot greater type of feeling for me, but I do know that these guys are prepared. They’re preparing themselves, and they’ve done a nice job”.
Banner, making his first career start (as an offensive lineman), also talked about his own comfort level working next to a veteran like Wisniewski. In reality, since he has never played in a game lining up to DeCastro before, it shouldn’t really make that much of a difference.
As long as the communication is solid, I really don’t anticipate there being any meaningful issues with these shifts. Banner is in his third year with the team. Feiler has been here going on six seasons. Wisniewski is the only new face to the organization, but he comes in with more starts than anybody else on the line who will be out there Monday short of Pouncey.