The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line depth sure has been tested a lot this year, especially considering the fact that they lost a starter and a top backup from last season’s roster—and also lost two other depth players through waivers in 2019 as well. And yet, in truth, they have held up.
Ramon Foster retired, so they moved right tackle Matt Feiler over to left guard in Foster’s spot, after top backup guard B.J. Finney left in free agency. Two young tackles, Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor, competed to start at right tackle.
Banner won. He suffered a torn ACL in the opener. That left just Okorafor left to run with the position for the rest of the way, and they brought back former fourth-round pick Jerald Hawkins to supplement. He has since carved out a niche as the tackle eligible.
David DeCastro suffered a knee injury in training camp. He missed the first two games as a result of that, prompting free agent signing and Pittsburgh native Stefen Wisniewski to start in his place. Only he went down with a pectoral injury in the opener. Rookie fourth-round pick Kevin Dotson has filled in since then, playing in four games, extensively in three, including two wall-to-wall starts.
Even Maurkice Pouncey has dealt with some injuries. With Wisniewski down, first-year J.C. Hassenauer has gotten some of the first offensive snaps of his career. In all, the Steelers have already had nine different offensive linemen play snaps in their starting five, and a 10th has seen time as an eligible. Only Derwin Gray so far has spent time on the 53-man roster and not gotten an offensive snap yet.
“We are developing that depth”, Randy Fichtner said of the reserve offensive linemen that they have had to break in as the season goes along. Two players have seen their first NFL snaps already this year, another made his first NFL start, while two others who were not with the team last year have also played.
“Whether you want to develop it by some spring training or training camp, preseason games would have been nice but some of the younger players had to step up”, Fichtner went on. “They did a nice job doing that. I always like the group when they’re together because that communication flows so nice and so easy”.
“Sometimes, a guy goes down here or a guy goes down there, it isn’t something that you’re not capable of. It’s just that communication from that guy, that group protection we keep talking about. I’m proud of that group and always have been”.
Part of the reason that they have been able to integrate new pieces so well is because of the stability that they already have in others like Feiler and Alejandro Villanueva and Pouncey, plus Shaun Sarrett as their position coach, who has been around since 2012, as long as any lineman short of Pouncey has been here. that consistency has played a role in helping the line keep on rolling in spite of the injuries.