Steelers OTA preview: Team ready to turn the page at right tackle
Almost five months after playing their last game, the Pittsburgh Steelers are about to put a full roster of players on the field as they ramp up preparations for the 2019 season.
The third and final phase of the NFL’s offseason conditioning program begins Tuesday for the Steelers with the first of 10 organized team activities, or OTAs.
Phase 3, as it is known, spans four weeks, with the final one featuring the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp. Players cannot wear pads except to cover the knees and elbows. Helmets can be worn and teams can participate in 11-on-11 drills, but no hitting is permitted.
Heading into the start of OTAs, the Tribune-Review will take a daily look at a position that will bear watching once the entire 91-man roster convenes at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Who’s back: Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, Chuks Okorafor, Zach Banner, Jerald Hawkins
Villanueva is entrenched on the left side of the offensive line. He is coming off his second Pro Bowl selection, and he has started 58 consecutive games. With Marcus Gilbert getting traded to Arizona, Feiler will get a chance to earn the starting job on a full-time basis. The former undrafted free agent from Bloomsburg started 10 games last year while Gilbert was injured. The Steelers have high hopes for Okorafor, their third-round pick in 2018 who made one start at right tackle as a rookie. Hawkins has missed two of his three NFL seasons because of injuries, and he has been surpassed by Feiler and Okorafor as a result. Banner was on the 53-man roster last year but did not appear in a game.
Who’s gone: Marcus Gilbert, Joseph Cheek
With Gilbert missing 20 of his past 32 regular-season starts and entering the final season of his contract, the Steelers dealt him to the Cardinals for a sixth-round choice, ending an eight-year tenure with the Steelers. Cheek was a first-year player who was not re-signed after spending last year on injured reserve.
Who’s new: Derwin Gray, Damian Prince
Given the returning options at tackle, it will be difficult for Gray or Prince to earn a roster spot. The practice squad remains a more realistic option. Gray and Prince come to the Steelers from Maryland. Gray was the team’s seventh-round draft pick and ninth player they selected in the draft. He started the past two seasons at left tackle for the Terrapins. Prince was signed after competing in rookie minicamp. He was a three-year starter at right tackle for Maryland and led all returning Big Ten tackles with just eight pressures allowed in 2018.
What’s at stake?: For the first time in six years, the line won’t be directed by Hall of Famer Mike Munchak, who took the same assistant coaching job with the Denver Broncos. Shaun Sarrett, entering his eighth year with the Steelers, takes over and will be tasked with continuing Munchak’s teachings. He spent the past season as assistant offensive line coach and the six previous seasons as an offensive assistant. OTAs will provide a chance for Feiler and perhaps Okorafor to work with the first team in the offseason. It also will be a chance to gauge Hawkins’ return to form.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .