View Full Version : 4 players jockeying for Steelers’ starting right tackle job

06-04-2019, 01:43 AM
4 players jockeying for Steelers’ starting right tackle job

CHRIS ADAMSKI | Monday, June 3, 2019

How much continuity has the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line had? And just how rare is that?

Put it this way: Putting aside temporary injury- (or suspension-) related fill-ins, the starting five this season will undergo its first change since the middle of the 2015 season. Across the rest of the team, there are only four players who can reasonably be said to have held on to starting jobs throughout that span (Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Bud Dupree).

So when someone other than Marcus Gilbert gets first-team practice reps at right tackle and starts the season opener in September, rest assured, it will be somewhat jarring to the Steelers.

“I love Gil,” said center Maurkice Pouncey, Gilbert’s Steelers teammate for eight seasons. “That’s my guy. I hate that (a trade of Gilbert to Arizona) happened.”

Fortunately for the Steelers, though, the decision to trade Gilbert was an easy one — and not just to shed a salary-cap hit of roughly $5 million. It’s because the Steelers have no shortage of quality, deserving candidates to replace Gilbert.

“They bring in the right type of guys,” Pouncey said. “The guys who like to work, like to work on their craft.”

The starting right tackle spot is one of the few position battles of any type for the Steelers over the summer and into training camp; it’s certainly the lone all-or-nothing competition that needs to be decided before the Sept. 8 season opener.

And there are at least four potential contenders: Matt Feiler, Chuks Okorafor, Jerald Hawkins, Zach Banner. Feiler is the incumbent after having a virtual “interim” tag attached to his claim to the gig for 10 games last season.

Okorafor was drafted specifically to fill a future opening at tackle when the Steelers took him in the third round last year.

Hawkins combines a degree of reasonable pedigree (three-year starter at LSU, NFL fourth-round pick in 2016) and experience in the organization. But he has just one NFL start and missed two full seasons because of injury.

The 6-foot-8 Banner is the longest shot of this quartet. But the Steelers clearly are intrigued by him, as evidenced by keeping him on the 53-man roster all of last season.

“Guys are competing,” Pouncey said. “When you have competition with (Feiler), Chuks, Hawkins and Banner, it brings the best out of you. We’ll see whenever camp comes.”

What we’ve seen so far is Feiler getting first-team reps, which is not unexpected after he performed admirably (Pro Football Focus rated him “above average”) in his first full-time NFL action last season.

It has been a long road to that point for Feiler, an undrafted Bloomsburg alumnus who spent three full seasons on NFL practice squads and one mostly as a Sunday inactive before his breakthrough last season. As such, he insists he’s not changing his approach now that he has starting NFL experience.

“Not really. There’s always preparation to be done, and ways to get better and I have got to keep doing the same thing I’ve been doing because to me I feel like it’s been working for me,” Feiler said after an organized team activity session last week. “So it’s an ‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it’ mentality.”

Okorafor might be whom the Steelers are privately rooting for because he might have the highest upside. A small-school product (Western Michigan) who took up football relatively later in life, Okorafor said Year 2 in the NFL “is so much more smoother for me.”

“It feels different,” Okorafor added. “Now, you’re accustomed to how everything is going to go, in meetings and in practice. How the guys are working and how practice goes, things like that.”

Of all four of the candidates, the stakes perhaps are lowest for Okorafor. His roster spot is probably safe regardless; the same likely cannot be said for Hawkins and Banner. And at 27 next month and scheduled to be a restricted free agent in the spring, Feiler could see his career take off if he holds onto the gig.

“Everyone wants to be the starter,” Okorafor said. “But among us, it doesn’t matter. We all want to play, but me, Zach, Matt, Hawk, we all support each other.”


Steel Maniac
06-04-2019, 11:18 AM
Love the " big picture " mentality that everyone is saying.

06-05-2019, 02:52 PM
Feiler Hoping Overall Footwork, Hand Usage Improvement Leads To Retainment Of Starting Spot

By Dave Bryan
Posted on June 5, 2019

After losing starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert to a lower leg injury early last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers turned to former undrafted free agent Matt Feiler and the Bloomsburg University product went on to start 10 games in total. Feiler represented himself well overall as the team’s starting right tackle in the roughly 675 total offensive snaps that he played and with Gilbert no longer on the team, he reportedly opened of this year’s offseason practices as a starter. During an interview last week on Steelers Nation Radio, Feiler was asked about how it feels to have opened up OTAs as the team’s starting right tackle.

“Oh, it sounds good, but there’s still a lot of work to be done and, you know, always looking to get better and do whatever I can to help out the team,” Feiler said.

Despite is strong showing last season at right tackle, Feler, who was re-signed this past offseason to a one-year contract as an exclusive rights free agent, knows he has a lot of room from improvement and he noted one specific area of his game that he’s been focusing on since the 2018 season ended.

“I think just my footwork overall in the run and pass game,” Feiler said. “You know, just get my feet on the ground and keep them on the ground and keep them moving. You know, that’s always something that offensive linemen especially can work on.”

While Feiler’s overall strength has been an asset to him as an offensive lineman so far during his NFL career, he also recognizes that better hand usage moving forward will also help him become a better overall player.

“That’s something that I’ve been working on is my hands and just the placement and the speed that I’m trying to throw them out there,” Feiler said. “You know, it’s something that’s starting to come together a little bit.”

Feiler’s overall position flexibility is likely one reason why he was originally able to stick with the Steelers since he was originally signed to the team’s practice squad in September 2015. In fact, last year during the preseason, Feiler played 108 total snaps at left guard and 25 more at center. That’s right, none of his preseason snaps came at tackle. Because of all the playing time he’s previously seen at guard, Feiler was asked last week if he has a natural affinity for either that position or tackle.

“You know, I don’t know,” Feiler told Craig Wolfley. “If you asked me last year, I would have definitely said guard, but it’s something that, I mean, as you get more time at the position, you know, I don’t prefer one over the other.”

While Feiler did open this year’s OTAs as the team’s starting right tackle, there’s no guarantee he’ll hold that spot on the depth chart throughout the summer as he figures to face a tough challenge from two of the team’s former draft picks, tackles Chukwuma Okorafor, a rookie last season who started one game, and Jerald Hawkins, who spent all of last season on the Reserve/Injured list with a quadriceps injury. During his interview last week, Feiler was asked about the progress that Okorafor and Hawkins have both made so far this offseason starting with the former.

“He’s young, you know, but he’s learning very quickly and, you know, he’s doing a good job,” Feiler said of Okorafor, who was selected by the Steelers in the third-round of the 2018 NFL Draft. “He’s athletic, he’s big, so yeah, I mean, he’s putting in a lot of work and it’s showing.”

Feiler was then quickly asked to comment on what he’s seen out of Hawkins, who was selected in the fourth-round of the 2016 NFL Draft, so far this offseason as he battles back from yet another injury.

“Hawk, he’s coming off the injury from last year, but, you know, he looks like he’s getting stronger and stronger every day and he’s looking good,” Feiler said.

We’ll now sit and wait and see how the battle for the Steelers starting right job for the start of the 2019 regular season ultimately plays and if Feiler can ultimately keep the spot all summer. If for some reason Feiler doesn’t wind up holding on to the starting job, he still figures to make the 53-man roster once again as a backup and a backup at more than one position. He certainly was a great find by the Steelers several years ago.


06-06-2019, 08:43 AM
2019 Stock Watch – T Jerald Hawkins – Stock Up

By Matthew Marczi
Posted on June 6, 2019

Now that the 2019 NFL Draft is underway, and the roster heading into the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.

A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we head toward training camp.

Player: T Jerald Hawkins

Stock Value: Up

While we already know that Matt Feiler has been working with the first-team offense, and we can probably assume that Chukwuma Okorafor has been the next man up, there have been positive reports about all of the young tackles on the roster.

Hawkins probably is the longest shot in the mix to win the starting job. But the reality is that he is a fourth-year player who has spent two of his first three seasons on injured reserve, and has missed so much time that he might even count his blessings for still having a job, which will again be at risk this summer even as he competes for a starting job.

But according to his peers, Hawkins has seemingly been looking better, and more confident, and stronger, every day of practice. For a player coming off of a serious injury, even if it was a year ago, you can’t ask for more than incremental daily progress once you get yourself going again.

That’s the first step. He has a handful of more practices to get his sea legs back before the break and then the real competition starts at training camp. The real question will be what sort of percentage of the first-team snaps he is going to get.

Mike Tomlin did name Feiler, Okorafor, and Hawkins all together as the players who would be in competition to start at the right tackle position that was vacated when the Steelers traded Marcus Gilbert to the Arizona Cardinals, but it feels as though he will have to fight for the scraps.

After all, the other two players have had starting experience already, and without the injury history that Hawkins does. But if he can show that he is getting back to where he left off before the injury, that would go a long way toward making himself a very serious candidate for the job later this summer.


06-07-2019, 01:14 AM
Chuks Okorafor losing in hopes of gaining a starting spot on the Steelers’ line in 2019

The Pittsburgh Steelers second year offensive lineman has slimmed down in hopes of separating himself from his competition.

By Jeff.Hartman@BnGBlitz Jun 6, 2019

The starting right tackle spot on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line is up for grabs. When you think about it, it has been a long time since there has even been a battle to be had along the formidable front that protects Ben Roethlisberger and opens holes for James Conner.

But with the trade of Marcus Gilbert to the Arizona Cardinals for a 6th round draft pick, there is now a starting position up for grabs. Who will win it? It is between Matt Feiler, Chukwuma Okorafor and Jerald Hawkins.

Feiler might be the leader in the clubhouse, considering he started in Gilbert’s stead last season, but Okorafor has come into the Steelers’ Organized Team Activities (OTAs) with a new look. In other words, he has lost some weight.

“I’m down a little bit,” Okorafor told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “so I feel a little bit more fast.”

According to Adamski, Okorafor didn’t divulge how much weight he lost, but wanted to drop around 10-15 pounds before the start of the season. Why did he lose weight?

“Just wanted to get a little quicker,” Okorafor said.

Feiler enters this competition with 10 starts under his belt, and Okorafor has one start under his belt from 2018. While the true competition won’t begin until training camp in late July, Okorafor has been practicing at both left and right tackle throughout OTAs. While Okorafor doesn’t have as much starting experience as Feiler, he does have experience as an extra tight end in heavy packages to help as a run blocker. Who wins this battle is anyone’s guess, but Okorafor seems determined to put his best foot forward in the competition.

The underlying theme throughout this competition will be the ultimate quality of the competition. Feiler proved to be a solid backup, but will he keep that standard as a starter? Okorafor doesn’t have much experience, is he ready for the huge step as a starting right tackle? Jerald Hawkins is the wild card in this whole scenario, and no one outside of the organization can really say how he will play after missing the entire 2018 season with a torn quadriceps.

This camp battle will definitely be one to keep an eye on.


06-07-2019, 10:13 AM
It seems to be an odd decision for him to drop weight while competing for a starting RT spot.

He said that he wanted to get a little quicker, but it's typically the LT who faces off against the opponents' best speed rushers and must be able to move adequately to prevent them from turning the corner.

However, the RT is typically a bit beefier than the LT, to be more of a road grader in the run game as well.

We'll see how this ultimately works out for the kid...

06-07-2019, 08:11 PM
Maybe he dropped some fat but added more muscle. That would serve him well.

06-11-2019, 01:14 AM
Ramon Foster On Matt Feiler’s Ascent: ‘It Reminds Me Of My Process’

By Matthew Marczi
Posted on June 10, 2019

The transformation of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line began in earnest in 2010 when they used a first-round selection on center Maurkice Pouncey, who would immediately usurp the struggling veteran, Justin Hartwig. Investment in the position continued to drive their thoughts, adding right tackle Marcus Gilbert in the second round in 2011, then right guard David DeCastro a year later.

The investment was also made in Mike Adams in the second round that year. While he faltered, seventh-round pick Kelvin Beachum, instead, emerged as their left tackle, until he parted in free agency. He was replaced by Alejandro Villanueva, a former college free agent, and he lines up next to the most veteran player on the line at left guard, Ramon Foster: another former college free agent.

Soon, the Steelers’ starting offensive line may consist of a pair of All-Pro first-round picks in the middle paired with three great stories in college free agents, if third-year Matt Feiler wins the right tackle job after Gilbert was traded earlier this offseason.

Feiler was originally signed by the Houston Texans, and spent 2014—yes, 2014—on their practice squad before the Steelers added him a year later. He would spend the next two years on their practice squad, ultimately losing future eligibility, before finally making the team in 2017. He started the season finale that year at right guard and then started 10 games at right tackle in 2018.

In many ways, Feiler’s journey reminds Foster of his, though it took longer for the former’s to get going—perhaps in part because the Steelers’ offensive line is much deeper than it was a decade ago.

“It reminds me of my process”, Foster told Jacob Klinger during OTAs. “It reminds me of a guy that, if he continues to work hard, certain stuff will come his way. And this is just one of them”.

Foster originally signed with the Steelers out of Tennessee in 2009. He made the 53-man roster on his first try, and for years, he would earn the occasional spot start as injuries arose. He would not secure a full-time starting job for himself until his fifth season in 2013. He started every game in 2012, but that was after DeCastro suffered a torn MCL in the preseason. He started the first 13 games at right guard and then moved to the left side, where he has played since, during the last three games after Willie Colon was injured.

Feiler could follow a similar path to a starting job, but he will have his hands full. While he has been taking the bulk of the first-team reps, he has to compete with second-year former third-round pick Chukwuma Okorafor, who had an encouraging rookie season in 2018 and even started one game while Feiler was nicked up.

Feiler told Klinger that seeing how the likes of Foster and Villanueva had to come up to get where they are, and the work that they put in, “kind of motivates you to do the same thing”. I think it’s fair to say that if he does start, barring injuries, it will have been through the product of his labors and nothing else.


07-07-2019, 11:35 AM
By Josh Alper
Jul 7, 2019, 8:34 AM EDT
Matt Feiler thinks Steelers RT job is “up for grabs”

The Steelers traded Marcus Gilbert to the Cardinals this offseason in a move that seemed to clear the way for Matt Feiler to take over as the team’s right tackle.

Feiler started 10 games in place of an injured Gilbert last season and took most of the first team snaps in the offseason program after re-signing with the Steelers in March, but he’s not counting any chickens before they hatch. He said he’s “not by any means the starter” as the team heads toward training camp.

“It’s up for grabs,” Feiler said, via the team’s website. “It’s going to be a tough battle.”

The chief competition for the starting job would likely be Chukwuma Okorafor, who started one game after being drafted in the third round. It remains to be seen just how things will play out, but, despite his protestations, it does seem like it will be Feiler’s job to lose this summer.

Iron City Inc.
07-07-2019, 12:43 PM
We'll be all over this at camp both starting right T and back up left T. Don't believe we take 5 on the 53 so we have 5 battling for 4 spots. AV's back up and starting RT will be hammered out at St Vincent's n in the pre-season. Okorafor's ability to flip is a plus. Hawkins looked like he had quick feet in camp 2 years ago but who knows what he is or isn't today. Good part of it is we have some depth so it's likely we may have multiple guys who can be starting right tackles in this league.

07-07-2019, 07:14 PM
I'll be rooting for Okorafor. I thought he would be starting sometime last season. But he ended up playing when the Steelers employed alot of 3 tackle formations. I watched him and he played well all season.

07-14-2019, 07:03 PM
2019 Training Camp Battles: Starting Right Tackle

By Matthew Marczi
Posted on July 14, 2019

It won’t be long now before the Pittsburgh Steelers begin rolling into Latrobe, PA to make Saint Vincent College their home away from home for several weeks as the summer winds down. That is when we know that training camp has begun, and with it the first deep breaths of the 2019 NFL season.

Everything that we have experienced up until now, from the re-signings, releases, and trades to the draft and all the way through OTAs and minicamp, has been but a preview, the setup, for what is to come next.

And so we too continue to preview what comes next in a series in which we will highlight several of the battles for roster spots and roles that we expect to see during our time observing in training camp and throughout the preseason.

Position: Right Tackle

Up for Grabs: Starting Job

In the Mix: Matt Feiler, Chukwuma Okorafor, Jerald Hawkins, Zach Banner

Though I have four names listed, I think the consensus expectation is that it will become boiled down to only two, if it hasn’t been already. The Steelers felt as though they had enough talent at the tackle position where they felt comfortable trading the recently oft-injured Marcus Gilbert this offseason as he entered the final year of his contract.

That talent primarily consisted of Matt Feiler and Chukwuma Okorafor, who combined to start 11 of the 16 games at right tackle last season. Admittedly, Feiler started 10 of them, but the interesting thing to note is that he was actually the healthy scratch for the games that Gilbert missed last year, Okorafor consistently dressing as the swing tackle. Both for Gilbert and then for Feiler, too.

With Gilbert gone, the Steelers will field a different starting lineup for the season opener for a reason other than injury for the first time since 2015, when Kelvin Beachum was in the final year of his deal with the team. From 2016 to 2018, they had a consistent five-man presence.

The four players to the left of right tackle still remain intact, and in fact under contract for at least the next two seasons, but a new starter will emerge inevitably now. So far, Feiler took the vast majority of the first-team snaps during the spring, but things should open up much more in training camp.

I would imagine that, barring somebody else getting thrown into the mix, the Steelers will probably have each of them start two preseason games and work with the first-team line. Feiler is the more experienced player, and performed ably in his 10 starts last year (otherwise he wouldn’t have been allowed to make 10 starts), but Okorafor, in his second season, is the more talented with more upside.

Okorafor will turn 22 just a short time into training camp. Feiler turned 27 exactly a week ago. It’s worth noting that the latter has inside capability, with respect to his long-term prospects. The team still controls him comfortably for the next two years as an exclusive rights free agent.


08-08-2019, 08:19 PM
Steelers’ Matt Feiler pulling away with starting right tackle job

CHRIS ADAMSKI | Thursday, August 8, 2019

It was billed as the lone winner-take-all starting position battle during this Pittsburgh Steelers training camp.

But has Matt Feiler’s strong play on the practice fields of Saint Vincent already rendered the Steelers’ starting right tackle verdict moot?

The man with perhaps the most input into that decision smiled when asked that question.

“You know,” new offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett said, “Matt’s done a heck of a job in camp. He’s competed at a high level, and he’s done everything he can do. In my mind right now he’s leading the pack at the starting right tackle position.

“With that being said, the competition is not over yet — we haven’t played a preseason game yet.”

That will change 7:30 p.m. Friday when the Steelers host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their preseason opener.

Barring something unforeseen, Feiler will start at right tackle, just as he did for 10 games last season filling in for an injured Marcus Gilbert, who has since been traded. Feiler has run with the first-team offense for the entirety of training camp, too. The only times we haven’t seen him at right tackle are when the Steelers have given him reps at one of the guard spots, purportedly to keep his skills fresh at that position.

The starting five of Gilbert, David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster and Alejandro Villanueva had spent five seasons together. And the strong-as-a-rock Feiler (hence, his nickname, “Anchor”) appears to have seamlessly fit in just fine.

“I feel like every day you’ve got to earn everybody’s respect,” Feiler said, “and it just comes with working hard and doing the right things. I feel like for the most part, I’ve been doing that.”

While Chuks Okorafor, Jerald Hawkins and Zach Banner are still, technically, in the running to start at right tackle, at this point it seemingly would take a total collapse by Feiler (or injury) for the depth chart to change. It hasn’t budged for one rep through organized team activities, minicamp and two weeks of training camp.

Okorafor and Banner, in particular, have impressed in their own ways, though, and good outings against enemy competition beginning Friday could help them lock down spots on the 53-man roster.

It is at the backup line spots where arguably the most heated competitions are on the Steelers offense. Okorafor and fourth-year center/guard B.J. Finney are locks to make the team, but the pool of talent for — at most — two other 53-man roster spots is deep. And so is the jockeying for perhaps two practice-squad designations.

“We have been going through that process,” coach Mike Tomlin said of whittling down the offensive line to a group that will be with the team when it plays New England on Sept. 8. “The natural attrition that is this process creates opportunity for guys to show versatility, for guys to move up and get reps with more veteran groups.

“I am excited about getting those guys in the stadium and seeing what they can do individually and collectively.”

Okorafor, Banner and Hawkins are leading the brigade of second-team tackles, with utility backup Finney leading a solid crop of second-team interior linemen such as impressive undrafted rookie Fred Johnson, returning practice-squad player Patrick Morris, first-year former Alabama starting center J.C. Hassenauer and rookie seventh-round pick Derwin Gray.

Each can probably make a legitimate case he is deserving of a 53-man roster spot. And each will get on-field auditions to impress Tomlin, general manager Kevin Colbert and Sarrett.

“Having too many good players, it’s always a good problem to have,” Sarrett said. “I think there are guys on our second and third teams that can play elsewhere. And that’s something we will work through these next four games and we will make our decisions from there — what fits us best and we go from there.

“A lot of guys have looked good out here (at Saint Vincent), but can they do it in the games? It’ll be exciting to find out, and that starts Friday night.”


08-11-2019, 02:01 AM
Okorafor had an awful showing at LT last night.