With the meager signings in free agency, Steelers’ Nation should have known that no matter how things panned out in the draft, interior offensive line depth would still be an issue. Fans need to keep their fingers crossed that injuries and poor play do not rear their ugly heads in 2020 or the season could repeat the 8-8 finish of the 2019 season— or worse.
The Steelers brought in Stefen Wisniewski to fill the void left by the retirement of left guard Ramon Foster. The 31-year-old veteran brings versatility to the offensive line with starts at center and left guard throughout his career. In 2019, the nine-year pro had a smattering of plays at right tackle to showcase his versatility. Playing on his fifth team, Wisniewski has not started 16 games at left guard since his rookie season in 2011. This is a concern because of the depth behind him if he cannot hold up for a whole 16 games due to the loss of backup interior linemen B.J. Finney. If Wisniewski goes down or would get benched, it is highly likely the Steelers would move right tackle Matt Feiler to left guard. While Feiler has played guard, I dislike the idea of creating a hole at right tackle. (More on this later.)
Who is his direct backup? Ourlads has 2018 seventh rounder Derwin Gray. Gray did not play for the Steelers in 2019 and was stashed on the team’s practice squad. He has an uphill battle to even make the roster in 2020. Kevin Dotson the Steelers 2020 fourth round pick may have the inside track to back up the left guard position even though he was primarily a right guard in college. Could an undrafted rookie free agent step up and snare the spot? This is a must watch situation in training camp and preseason with players with no NFL experience competing for the backup gig.
Right guard David DeCastro had arguably his worst seasons as a pro in 2019 in terms of run blocking and pass protection. The five-time Pro Bowler will enter his ninth season with the team and fans hope he can regain his dominant form with unproven depth behind him. I scratch my head why Ourlads has offensive tackle Zach Banner as his direct backup. I believe he will remain on the outside and they would move Feiler with Dotson as the primary backup at both tackle positions. Could Gray stick his nose into the competition?
Center Maurkice Pouncey was a shell of his previous All-Pro years in 2019. His struggles were not limited to run and pass blocking but also with snapping the ball. If Pouncey were to go down, or get suspended again, the line line could be thrown into complete chaos. It is hard to see J.C. Hassenauer making the squad, let alone getting the starting nod over Wisniewski and his vast experience as an NFL starting center. Hassenauer spent most of the 2019 season out of the league but spent five weeks on the practice squad and one week on the active roster. Steeler fans do not want to go down this slippery slope of hypothesis if Pouncey, the former 2010 first rounder, misses any significant time.
Here is my view on the current depth chart if an injury or benching would occur. It is not a conventional depth chart, but I would say this is realistic. (I left camp bodies out until they prove otherwise to be more.)
LG: Wiśniewski, Feiler, Dotson, Gray
C: Pouncey, Wiśniewski, Hassenauer
RG: DeCastro, Feiler, Dotson, Gray
The interior of the offensive line has to play better as an unit to have any semblance of offensive success in 2020. What scares is me is a lack of proven talent or even high draft picks behind the starters. I also detest even thinking about moving Feiler, arguably the team’s best offensive linemen in 2019, out of position in case of issues. In the past, the Steelers have done a wonderful job of finding diamonds in the rough in undrafted rookies. Could this be the year they land another one and brush my concerns about the interior aside? I sure hope so because I dread thinking about what a long-term injury to any of the three starters would mean for the 2020 season.
Be sure to check back here at BTSC for the next break down as we take a look at the offensive tackle depth chart.