You know a unit has attained an impressive pedigree backed by coaching and player development when you see a Week-2 injury report that includes a Hall of Fame quarterback, a highly-touted cornerback and a right guard (who might be the very best in the business), but the player you’re least worried about is the right guard.
Mike Munchak is the coach of the Steelers’ offensive line, and because of his recent history of developing players of lesser pedigrees, I’m not really all that worried about Pro Bowl guard, David DeCastro, possibly missing this Sunday’s game against the Chiefs at Heinz Field with a hand fracture.
History tells me I shouldn’t worry, and that’s because of guys like Alejandro Villanueva, an undrafted free agent who played tight end in college and began his pro career on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage, before being transformed into a Pro Bowl Left Tackle under Munchak’s watch. Chris Hubbard, another UDFA who started 14 games at Right Tackle during the previous two seasons and did so well, the Browns paid him big money to sign as a free agent this past offseason. For the purposes of this article, B.J. Finney is yet another UDFA who, if he gets the start against the Chiefs on Sunday, will be doing so for a third-straight season. Only this time, Finney will be switching positions and taking over for DeCastro at Right Guard, instead of for Ramon Foster on the left side.
Two seasons ago, Finney filled in for Foster against Kansas City, and the Steelers rushed for 149 yards in a 43-14 victory at Heinz Field. Last year, Finney again started against the Chiefs, and Pittsburgh rushed for 194 yards in a 19-13 triumph at Arrowhead Stadium.
To be fair, Finney and Company were paving the way for Le’Veon Bell and not James Conner, who’s slated to make his second-straight start in the wake of Bell’s continued holdout. But Pittsburgh’s offensive line has obviously proven to be problematic for the Chiefs’ front-seven in recent matchups.
Will that mastery of the line of scrimmage continue this Sunday if DeCastro — who may now be carrying the torch as the Steelers’ best offensive lineman — isn’t around?
I’m comfortable saying it will.
Finney, who has also started games at center, seems destined to take over next season for Foster, whose contract is up after 2018. If there’s enough confidence in Finney to start a whole season at Left Guard, that confidence shouldn’t wane in the face of him starting one game at Right Guard.
Speaking of next season, if Matt Feiler has to fill in for an injured B.J. Finney in a game or two, my confidence would still be fairly high.
Heck, if Chukwuma Okorafor, the rookie Swing Tackle out of Western Michigan, has to start some games this season in-place of Villanueva or Marcus Gilbert, I’d be more than optimistic he’d get the job done.
This is what having the very best in the business does for a fan.
I’m not talking about David DeCastro. I’m talking about Mike Munchak.
Missing Ben Roethlisberger might have been a problem against the Chiefs, but missing Joe Haden could still prove to be a problem against Kansas City. But the Steelers’ offensive line won’t miss a beat with B.J. Finney starting at Right Guard.