Steelers notebook: David DeCastro counted on to assist Chuks Okorafor |

Steelers notebook: David DeCastro counted on to assist Chuks Okorafor

Joe Rutter
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive guard David DeCastro (66) plays in an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Unless swing offensive lineman Matt Feiler shows improvement in his recovery from a pectoral injury, rookie third-round pick Chuks Okorafor will make his first NFL start Sunday for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Okorafor would sub for starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who will miss his fifth consecutive game with a knee injury.

Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner is comforted by Okorafor lining up next to right guard David DeCastro.

“What a blessing that is to have an All-Pro guard next to you,” Fichtner said. “That communication, they work well together.”

Okorafor has played as a tight end in jumbo packages, and he’s gotten some work on the first-team line when veterans are rested.

“It’s not like he hasn’t been in there before,” Fichtner said. “Having Dave there makes me sleep better at night, but they still have to do it on game day.”

What might give Fichtner some nightmares is if the Broncos decide to find a mismatch by having All-Pro linebacker Von Miller line up across the line of scrimmage from Okorafor. Miller has 10 sacks this season.

“You have to be intelligent in how you protect,” Fichtner said. “Collectively, the group has to be solid. It’s not just one guy like Chuks or any one person. It’s about protection schemes, the wide receivers, the running backs getting open. It’s the tight ends getting open on time, the quarterback making decisions to throw the ball on time.

“You have to be careful on situational runs. (Miller) is capable of disrupting the game all kind of ways, not just sacking the quarterback.”

It’s never easy

For the third consecutive week, the Broncos will face a team riding a winning streak of at least five games.

The Houston Texans extended their streak to six wins in a row when Denver kicker Brandon McManus missed a 51-yard field goal on the final play of the Broncos’ 19-17 loss. Last week, the Broncos used a 34-yard McManus field goal as time expired to snap the Los Angeles Chargers’ six-game streak with a 23-22 victory.

This week, it’s the Steelers and their six-game streak on tap for Denver.

“It’s the toughest stretch that’s happened in this league in 42 years,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said.

The 1976 Tampa Bay Bucs were the last team to face such a challenge when they wrapped up an 0-14 season with losses to the Raiders, Steelers and Patriots.

“We’re kind of battle-tested,” Joseph said. “We’ve played the best teams in the league, so for our team, we won’t flinch. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

The air up there

Considering the Steelers are playing in mile-high altitude for the first time in three seasons, they might use a heavy player rotation in order to stay fresh in the thin, dry air. That could mean all hands on deck for defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who spent his 10-year playing career with Seattle, which meant annual trips to then-AFC West rival Denver.

“Did it matter? Yeah, it mattered,” Butler said. “The thing you have to do, especially early in the game is take care of yourself, get oxygen and get acclimated to it. When I played there, it gave me a little bit of a queasy stomach early. Once you’re a quarter or half a quarter in, it subsides and feels normal.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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