The successful NFL offense starts with a quality offensive line. The ability to both protect the quarterback and open holes for the running game is paramount for winning games when it matters. The Steelers have gone from one of the best in the league, to one with questions all along the line.
The most expensive position along the line would certainly be the tackle position, left tackle to be exact, but the importance of the tackles has become glaring in the pass-happy modern NFL. The Steelers have their share of tackles on the roster, but this depth chart is not even close to written in stone heading into training camp.
Before getting into depth chart talk, let's first take a look at the tackles who are currently on the roster.
There are names on the roster who don't stand a chance at making the team, barring injury. With the NFL talking about trimming rosters with an abridged, or canceled, preseason there wouldn't be a need for many players on the above roster.
But when it comes down to who will make the team, and where they will fit on the depth chart, you are entering muddy waters.
Fans know how Mike Tomlin told media just a couple weeks ago how Matt Feiler will be taking the first reps at left guard, replacing the retired Ramon Foster.
"We are still determining those things." Tomlin said. "Matt Feiler is probably going to take the first snap at left guard and Ty [Tyson Alualu] is probably going to take the first snap at nose guard, and we will work from there.
"We don’t have time to mess around in this environment, guys. We lost 900 snaps like everybody did with the virtual offseason. You’ve got to give the benefit of the doubt to people who have been here at least as a basis to begin. That’s the way we are going to begin the training camp process, knowing that process is going to be an abbreviated one. Those that have experience, have been a part of this thing are probably going to have a leg up just as a basis to begin. We are going to start with Matt Feiler at left guard. Both young tackles in Zach Banner and Chuks [Chukwuma Okorafor] have been here and have played. The combination of those guys provides the most experience for us, and that’s probably the appropriate place to begin."
There are certain situations which will determine who plays the right tackle position, assuming no one is going to unseat Villanueva at left tackle.
If Feiler does start at guard, it will likely be a battle between Okorafor and Banner for right tackle. In 2019 there was a scenario which could have possibly shown who has the advantage heading into training camp. As the Rams, and Aaron Donald, visited Heinz Field last season, Foster was out of the lineup due to injury. The Steelers moved Feiler from his tackle position to guard, and placed Okorafor at right tackle.
The reasoning behind this decision was to help protect the interior of the line, hence moving Feiler, and the team not wanting to take Banner out of his extra tight end role. It does make you wonder if Banner was the player primed for the right tackle role, why they wouldn't have simply moved him in for that isolated game?
Needless to say, if Feiler stays at guard, the tackle who doesn't win the right tackle spot will likely turn into the swing tackle and back up both the right and left tackle positions. But there is another caveat to this entire situation. What if neither Okorafor or Banner are able to take advantage of the opportunity? In this instance, the assumption is Feiler would be moved back to right tackle and Stefen Wisniewski or rookie Kevin Dotson would be the starting left guard.
The Steelers love versatility along their line, and this 2020 roster is no different. Having a player like Feiler who can play a multitude of positions is a tremendous asset on any team, but there is always the slogan of jack of all trades, master of none. The Steelers will need their offensive line to return to form in 2018, and not a repeat of 2019.
But don't pin all of the offensive failures of last season on the line. Not having Ben Roethlisberger under center was not just about his physical attributes, but also his game above the neck. Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges don't have the experience of Roethlisberger to check out of plays and put the offense in the best situation to succeed.
The team's offensive line might be getting a little long in the tooth, but they are built to have a bounce back season in 2020.
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