Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert embraces mentor role
As the Steelers' longest-tenured offensive tackle, Marcus Gilbert takes serious his role as a mentor at position.
Not only is the eight-year veteran trying to play his first full season since 2015, but he's intent on taking third-round pick Chukwuma Okorafor under his wing now that backup swing tackle Chris Hubbard signed a free-agent deal with the Cleveland Browns and Jerald Hawkins went down in OTAs with a torn quadriceps.
"You've got to lead by example and there's a thing on the o-line: We demand a certain type of play," Gilbert said. "When we lose a guy, you can't be a rookie. There's no rookies no more. You have to step up and play like you're one play away. These guys know that. We demand so much out of these guys, and all they've been doing is just working real hard and asking what we need them do right now.
"It was tough but whoever goes in there, we demand a certain level of play, and I know the guy who's filling in doesn't want to let any of the guys down. We have a high level of expectation. If their number is called and you're a play away, you have to be in there and not make any excuses and play to your capabilities."
Gilbert did the same with left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who started 16 games in each of the past two seasons after playing receiver at Army and defensive end in a tryout with the Philadelphia Eagles. Villanueva was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time last season, an honor that has eluded Gilbert.
"Same thing. We demanded a lot out of him," Gilbert said. "When (Kelvin) Beachum went down, he had to fill in another role. We demanded so much out of him. Granted, he's only played the position not too long. He found his way back on the field, playing at a high level really fast. As long as you go out there and harness your technique to stay ahead of the curve, I think they'll do well."
Fell in love with the process pic.twitter.com/IHtgpUbmZi— Chukwuma Okorafor (@Chuks__76) June 1, 2018
Okorafor, a 6-foot-6, 320-pound raw talent from Western Michigan, already has made a positive impression on Gilbert.
"He's a guy that has great footwork," Gilbert said. "He's young, but he's learning so damn fast. We're excited about him. I'm excited about him. He's just continuing to get better every day. He's a guy with a bright future.
"He can really get out there and use his hands. He's athletic but he's also a strong, aggressive puncher when he's getting out there on defensive ends and controlling his block. That's one of the things I was surprised about: A lot of guys coming from college, they don't know how to use their hands real well. He's one of those guys that had the footwork and the hands, too. His future is bright. I'm just excited for him to get added to our room."
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.