Technically speaking, Chukwuma Okorafor—and before his injury, Zach Banner—is the only new starting offensive lineman this season. Alejandro Villanueva, Maurkice Pouncey, and David DeCastro have been in place for a number of years now, and Matt Feiler has been the primary starter at right tackle for a couple of years.
But Feiler is at left guard now, a relatively new position, though he has four total starts there at this point, through three games in 2020. Villanueva has been the left tackle for every game of his career at left guard, and the pair is getting used to the change.
“The line has a culture of its own that has been growing for years. It’s starts with Maurkice Pouncey, the energy he brings, the standard”, he said about offensive linemen being creatures of habit. “It rubs off on all of us. Guys like Matt have been around the building for so long, incredibly underrated”.
“Offensive linemen are the biggest complainers in the world when it comes to doing anything that comes from outside of our routine. But Matt Feiler is steady as a rock, never complains, always has a good attitude”, he went on. “I think that humble approach he has and the selfless conduct he carries with us is an example for all of us. Playing next to Matt has been amazing. I loved playing with Ramon Foster. But Matt is an unbelievable player. Gives everything he has”.
Feiler has primarily played at tackle in the regular season, but that has largely been due to necessity. Over the course of his career, even before he was on the 53-man roster, he spent more time in the offseason, in training camp, and in preseason games, lining up at guard.
That doesn’t mean it’s not an adjustment after starting 25 games at right tackle over the past two seasons and focusing the majority of your efforts into establishing yourself at that position. You have to unlearn some things when you move inside full-time, and re-learn others, while picking up new things along the way.
You also have to learn new routines and relationships. Feiler and Villanueva have been teammates for a long time, but they haven’t worked together for very long, so that is an entirely different rhythm. An offensive line if a five-person unit, but more than anything, it’s a collective of a number of micro-relationships between linemen.
Between right tackle and right guard. Between right guard and center. Because center and left guard. Between left guard and left tackle. Between the two guards. Between the two tackles. Between the interior linemen. All of these smaller relationships, and others, go into making up the cohesiveness of a starting five.
When you introduce changes into those relationships, even if you’re only moving parts around and not adding new ones, it takes some adjustment. And it takes a professional like Feiler who is dedicated to his craft to commit to that process.