Gilbert missed almost the entire 2018 regular season injured, and in his stead was Matt Feiler for all but one game. Feiler is an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (ERFA) entering the offseason, and the Steelers already placed a tender on Feiler in case another team wants to poach him off their roster.
While some players, like Alejandro Villanueva a few years ago and Mike Hilton this year, will avoid signing their tender in hopes of getting a long-term contract instead. But not Feiler. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Feiler has signed his tender and is ready to start at right tackle in 2019.
Steelers right tackle Matt Feiler signed his exclusive rights free agent tender today, per sources. Feiler plans to work out at the team facility and is focused on winning the starting RT job. He’ll compete with Chuks Okorafor and Jerald Hawkins.— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) March 29, 2019
Feiler wants to focus on winning the starting job, but it won’t be a slam dunk — even for the man who essentially started last year. His competition, Chukwuma Okorafor and Jerald Hawkins will want to snag that rare open starting spot on the Steelers’ offensive line.
Of these three, the Steelers hope they can find the answer to their vacancy at the tackle position, but each player comes with their own respective concerns.
Okorafor is entering his second year in the league, and while he showed tremendous promise as a rookie in heavy packages as an extra tight end, there is still plenty of work to be done. Okorafor did represent himself nicely in his first, and only, start against the Broncos last season, but with such a small sample size he will really have to turn heads in training camp to win the job.
Feiler is likely the leader in the clubhouse for the position. Feiler started for the injured Gilbert last season, and did a tremendous job in relief duty. The man they call ‘the anchor’ is a run blocker who still has some work to do in regards of pass blocking, but represented himself in a way the Steelers would be comfortable going into the season with Feiler as the starter at right tackle.
The wild card in this whole equation is Hawkins. His rookie season was ended early with a shoulder injury, his sophomore season was disappointing and last year he tore his quadriceps muscle in Organized Team Activities (OTAs) putting him on Injured Reserve (IR) the rest of the season. Will Hawkins impress in 2019? Or find himself on the outside looking in? No one really knows.
On top of the three tackles vying for the starting position, there is also the change over at Offensive Line coach. Mike Munchak to a lateral position with the Broncos, leaving Shaun Sarrett as the new man in charge of the offensive line. Although Sarrett has been with the Steelers since before Munchak was hired, you have to wonder if he can keep the magic going Munchak had with taking lesser known players and turning them into greater talents.
Either way, this will be one of the big camp battles to keep an eye on as the 2019 regular season approaches.