The Pittsburgh Steelers will be opening up training camp in just a couple of days. Most teams will still have to wait another week, including the Baltimore Ravens, who will feature a new right tackle this season after trading away Pro Bowler Orlando Brown Jr. But it is a familiar face to Pittsburgh Steelers fans.
After the Steelers opted not to pursue retaining him, former left tackle Alejandro Villanueva signed with the Ravens on a two-year deal to move over to the right side. It’s not what he would prefer, to be sure, but they have Ronnie Stanley on the left side—which is why Brown wanted out.
It will be an adjustment for the 32-year-old, but it’s not as though he isn’t familiar with the concept of changing positions as somebody who either played or was recruited to play defensive end, tight end, wide receiver, and tackle during his college career.
Standing at 6’9”, it is easy for him to make an impression. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said that he first noticed Villanueva standing before the National Anthem prior to playing the Philadelphia Eagles during a preseason game. A month later, he was on their practice squad re-learning tackle after playing defensive end for their cross-state adversaries. He had a similar impact on his new teammates.
“The guy is huge. I was sitting there talking to him and I’m looking up at him”, said Ravens center Bradley Bozeman, himself 6’5”. “The guy is massive. So, he’s just a big body in there, he’s an athlete, gets after it, great pass-setter, good run-blocker. We’re just really excited to see what happens when the pads go on”.
Villanueva made the Pro Bowl twice during his six seasons as the Steelers’ primary starting left tackle, a position he first took over about a third of the way into the 2015 season, when Kelvin Beachum suffered a torn ACL. He has hardly missed a snap since then.
But according to the man himself, the Steelers let him know early on that they would not be offering him a contract—not that they could afford to in the first place. They had to release multiple players, restructure major contracts, and count on multiple retirements just to get salary cap compliant.
Now he’ll be adjusting to life across the aisle in what continues to be one of the best rivalries in sports. Despite what some might think, based only on reading a transcript of some comments that he made, I have no doubt he continues to have a great deal of love for his former teammates, and former organization.