Matt Feiler may be the incumbent, but he doesn’t consider himself the presumptive starter at right offensive tackle heading into training camp.
Not by a long shot.
“I’m not by any means the starter,” Feiler insisted this spring. “Anytime you’re out here, you’re getting pushed by the younger guys.”
Feiler started the last five games in succession, nine of the last 10 and 10 of 16 overall in 2018 at the position that by and large had belonged to Marcus Gilbert when healthy ever since the Steelers invested a second-round pick in Gilbert in 2011.
Gilbert started 88 of the 89 regular-season games he appeared in with the Steelers, but he was available for just 13 of 32 games combined over the past two campaigns (eight in 2017 and five last season).
He’s no long in the picture, but there are options at the position.
Feiler, who turns 27 tomorrow, doesn’t quite qualify as a “younger guy,” bur not is he a grizzled veteran.
He had started just one game prior to last season in an NFL career that began when he joined the Houston Texans as an undrafted rookie from Bloomsburg in 2014.
A recap from the Steelers 2019 minicamp at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex
Feiler rotated with 2018 third-round selection Chukwuma Okorafor at first-team right offensive tackle during OTAs and Mandatory Veteran Minicamp, with Feiler taking the majority of the first-team snaps.
“For the most part, I would say,” he assessed.
Among the other considerations at the position heading into training camp are Jerald Hawkins, a former fourth-round pick in 2016 who has been trying to regain his health and his promise after spending the 2018 season on the reserve/injured list, and Zach Banner, who played in eight games for Cleveland in 2017 in a career that also included stops in Indianapolis and Carolina prior to joining the Steelers last August.
“It doesn’t feel any different,” Feiler maintained. “The job is always on the line. You have to keep on working to improve every day.”
Guard Ramon Foster and offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva are examples of what can happen when hard work translates into improvement and opportunity.
Both were passed over in the draft but both start on a Steelers offensive line that also includes former first-round picks Maurkice Pouncey (center, 2010) and guard David CeCastro (guard, 2012).
“Especially coming in as a younger guy, you see the kind of guys that are in front of you and where they came from and how hard they had to work,” Feiler said.
“It kind of motivates you to do the same thing.
“It doesn’t matter where you came from,” Feiler added. “It matters what you do when you get here.
“The offensive line is a prime example of that.”
Feiler also played some left guard in the spring sessions.
The only designation he’s willing to accept regarding his status is “offensive lineman.”
As far as right tackle is concerned, “It’s up for grabs,” Feiler insisted. “It’s going to be a tough battle.”