Chuks Okorafor starting could be part of Steelers’ offensive-line shuffle
Could the Pittsburgh Steelers be preparing for a shakeup on the offensive line heading into their game Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams?
Matt Feiler confirmed Thursday he practiced at left guard for the second day in a row, and second-year lineman Chuks Okorafor said he took first-team reps at right tackle, which is Feiler’s usual spot on the offensive line.
If Feiler starts at left guard, he would replace B.J. Finney, who started against the Indianapolis Colts in place of injured starter Ramon Foster. Foster remains in concussion protocol.
Feiler was coy about the possibility of changing positions against the Rams.
“They just want to give me reps there,” he said, “and keep me fresh at every position that they can.”
Okorafor also said he was in the dark about possibly making his first start this season Sunday.
“I have no idea what the gameplan is,” he said. “I’m just going to keep doing my thing. If they need me to play scout team, left tackle, right tackle, it doesn’t matter. I’ll do the same thing every day.”
At his new conference Tuesday, coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers need to do a better job of winning the line of scrimmage. Although the Steelers have allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL, they rank No. 27 in rushing yards. Tomlin does not typically address the media Thursdays and denied an interview request on the subject.
Foster has one more chance to practice before Sunday. Finney typically has filled in whenever Foster has missed games. He also is the backup center to Maurkice Pouncey, who was bothered by a calf injury two weeks ago.
“You’re talking about musical chairs, and we’re trying to do some of that, too,” offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said. “We have X amount of guys that can play, so we’ve got to try to fit them and see who’s going to be available.
“I still hold out hope for Ramon, but you just never know when it comes to that stuff.”
The potential switch also could be attributed to the Steelers facing Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the NFL’s two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Feiler would give the Steelers a bigger-bodied player inside to help double team Donald.
At 6-foot-6, 330 pounds, Feiler is two inches taller and a dozen pounds heavier than Finney.
Until last year, when he started 10 games in place of an injured Marcus Gilbert at right tackle, Feiler was used all over the offensive line, getting the majority of snaps at guard. Feiler played guard and tackle in college at Bloomsburg.
“He’ll do the same thing he does at tackle: block guys really well,” Pouncey said. “He does a physical job.”
Okorafor, who is 6-6, 320, started one game as a rookie, replacing an injured Feiler at right tackle when the Steelers played at Denver in Week 12.
“He’s coming along really well,” Pouncey said. “He’s progressing. He’s going to get in there and play well.”
Okorafor also was used last season as an extra blocker at tight end, but he was surpassed by 6-8, 360-pound Zach Banner for that role in training camp. It effectively dropped Okorafor to third-string right tackle.
“I just keep doing my thing every day and let the guys upstairs choose and decide what is going to happen,” Okorafor said.
In his first NFL start, Okorafor matched up against Broncos defenders Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. They combined for six tackles and one sack by Miller.
“It helped show that I can play in the league as a young guy going against good players,” Okorafor said.
This time, the challenge would intensify if he lines up across from Donald, who is used up and down the Rams defensive front.
“If it happens, it’s going to be a good time,” Okorafor said.
No matter who is used on the offensive line against the Rams, the task will be keeping quarterback Mason Rudolph out of harm’s way. Whether it has been Rudolph, Devlin Hodges or Ben Roethlisberger taking snaps, the Steelers line has done its job better than any other NFL unit. Steelers quarterbacks have been sacked just eight times in as many games.
“I sleep good at night,” Fichtner said, “because we’ve been very solid with our protection of our quarterback. We take it serious.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .