Mike Munchak has a well earned reputation for turning prospects into valued professionals, but even he needs a canvas on which to create his next masterpiece. A potter is nothing without his clay. Munchak can only unlock the talent if the talent is already present to begin with.
The Pittsburgh Steelers possess one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. They are a veteran unit who have developed a fantastic chemistry from playing together for a few years now. They display superior technique and footwork, a direct result of Munchak's teaching, which has allowed the group to remain relatively healthy over the last few seasons. That is, every member of the group sans one, RT Marcus Gilbert.
Gilbert has missed more games over the last two seasons than he has started. Although he is a proven performer when healthy, he seems incapable of staying that way recently.
Last season the Steelers had a proven, position flexible back up named Chris Hubbard. Hubbard could play any position on the line, and do so admirably. He filled in for Gilbert on multiple occasions with little to no noticeable drop off.
Hubbard parlayed his outstanding performance into a lucrative free agent contract with the Cleveland Browns this past off season. While this was a well deserved development for Mr. Hubbard, it left the Steelers in a precarious position on their depth chart.
B.J. Finney was entrenched as the trusted backup at center and both guard spots, but unproven third year player Jerald Hawkins was tentatively penciled in as the backup swing tackle. The Steelers, obviously concerned with depth, selected raw prospect Chukwuma Okorafor in the third round to add in the mix.
All the Steelers best laid plans went out the window when Hawkins suffered a season ending injury during OTAs. Suddenly, many were panicking and suggesting the Steelers make a trade or scour the waiver wire after roster cuts.
In a surprising development; at least to everyone not named Mike Munchak, a little known, Pennsylvania born and bred journeyman won the position. His name is Matt Feiler, a UDFA from Division II Bloomsburg University. Feiler worked his way up from the practice squad, to being listed as a backup guard, to earning his first start against the Browns in the final game of the 2017 regular season. Even with his continued development, the Steelers had to be concerned with the backup swing tackle position at the start of this season.
Turns out there was no reason to be. Feiler has the situation under control. An offensive line is like a hand. If one of the fingers is weak the grip strength suffers. If one of the digits is broken or out of place, the impact as a fist is diminished. Feiler has proven to be strong member of the line and his personality fits the group like a hand in a glove.
The Steelers don't want to think were they would be without Feiler stepping up this season. He has already faced ferocious pass rushers like Julius Peppers and Joey Bosa this season, and will go up against Saints leading sackman Cameron Jordan on Sunday. It will definitely be a tough assignment, but he will be up to the task. He is used to the challenges, because nothing in Feiler's path to NFL relevance has ever come easily.