Steelers training camp preview: Depth a concern at tackle
The Tribune-Review will examine each position on the Steelers roster as they prepare to report for training camp July 25 at Saint Vincent. Today’s installment looks at the seven tackles:
Marcus Gilbert: When he’s on the field, Gilbert is considered one of the unsung right tackles in the game. The trouble is, he has played a 16-game schedule just twice in seven seasons. Injuries and a suspension limited him to eight games last year. If healthy, Gilbert has the talent to earn his first Pro Bowl berth.
Alejandro Villanueva: The Steelers tied up Villanueva to a long-term deal at the start of training camp last year, and he responded by becoming a Pro Bowl left tackle. He has started 47 consecutive games, and he almost never misses a practice.
Bryce Harris: The well-traveled Harris was signed to provide veteran competition after Jerald Hawkins suffered a season-ending injury during OTAs. Harris is entering his seventh season but hasn’t been on the field regularly since 2014, and he’s with his fourth team in as many years.
Matt Feiler: His recent work has come at right guard, but he joined the Steelers as a tackle. He provides versatility along the line.
Chuks Okorafor: He was considered a project when the Steelers drafted him in the third round out of Western Michigan. His learning curve has been
accelerated by the Hawkins
injury, and he could be the top option as the team’s swing tackle. Fellow linemen have raved about how quickly Okorafor has grasped the Steelers system.
On camp roster
Jake Rodgers: A former
seventh-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons, Rodgers had two stints on the Steelers practice squad last year. He was re-signed in May after the Houston Texans cut him. Hawkins’ injury gives him a shot to compete for the final spot on the offensive line.
Joseph Cheek: He played guard at Texas A&M and received a scouting combine invitation. After going undrafted, he spent the past two seasons on the practice squads of the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs. The Cleveland Browns signed him in the offseason but cut him two months later, and the Steelers signed him in May.
Is there enough depth?
The Steelers had an abundance of backups at the end of last season, but that was before Chris Hubbard got big money to become a starter for the Cleveland Browns and Hawkins was lost for the season. It opens the door for players such as Feiler and Harris to win roster spots, and it puts pressure on Okorafor to be ready to contribute in time for the season opener.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at email@example.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.