For one reason or another, the Pittsburgh Steelers made the decision to move on from left tackle Alejandro Villanueva this offseason. He remained unsigned until after the 2021 NFL Draft, after which point his signing would not affect teams’ compensatory draft pick formula, and as you know by now, he eventually signed with the Baltimore Ravens.
With All-Pro Ronnie Stanley playing on the left side, though, he was asked to convert and play on the right, a position at which he has not played since he logged about 100 snaps there between the preseason and the regular season in 2015.
He looked like he hadn’t played there in half a decade in his Ravens debut on Monday night against the Las Vegas Raiders. Pro Football Focus credited him with allowing 10 pressures during the game, including two sacks and three hits, with a 13.4 pass-blocking grade and an overall grade of 44.3 (he did grade positively in run blocking). So how is Baltimore feeling about its new right tackle?
“I’m very confident in my guys. Everyone makes mistakes”, quarterback Lamar Jackson said yesterday when he was asked about the struggles of his tackles. “Stuff like that happens. Every game is not going to be perfect. Week one is week one. We lost. We didn’t get blown out. It happens. So, those guys will be good, for sure”.
Now, it is reasonable to assume that Villanueva will indeed get better over the course of the season. He even had a bit of a history of being a slow starter in the beginning of the year during his time with the Steelers, and when you add in a position change, and a change of teams and coaching staff and everything else on top of it, the transition period could be a bit ugly.
Stanley, however, also played far below his All-Pro level, in his first action since tearing his ACL midseason a year ago. Meanwhile, they just lost their left guard, and their center has never played that position in the NFL before prior to this season. Yet nobody struggled as much as Villanueva did.
“I’m not really into that kind of conversation”, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said when he was said about potential concerns with Villanueva’s transition to right tackle. “We come out, and we work to get better. He works his butt off to get better; he’s going to play very well for us”.
They don’t have a lot of other options. Tyre Phillips, the aforementioned left guard, was actually their primary backup right tackle. Their other backup tackle, Patrick Mekari, is primarily an interior lineman, though he has college experience starting at tackle. But if he is starting, it’s because Villanueva is injured or struggling dramatically.