When one door closes, another door opens. This was the certainly the case for Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva during their Week 6 game against the Arizona Cardinals as he watched starting tackle Kelvin Beachum writhing in pain on the ground.
With Beachum lost for the season with a torn ACL ligament in his knee, the job as the starting left tackle now belongs to the player teammates call "Big Al". As a former Army Ranger who served three tours of duty over seas, Villanueva is no stranger to pressure, but admitted to Ralph Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review there is something specially nerve-wracking about your first playing time in the NFL.
"I think I could have played better," Villanueva said referring to his play in the Week 6 game against Arizona. "A lot of times, in your first NFL game, it's a little surreal, and you're not as involved in game preparation. I could have been way more physical, and I could have finished plays a little better. I know how to fix it. I could have been more consistent on the field."
Villanueva was far from perfect in his brief time with the starting offense last Sunday, but he, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, did enough to make sure his play didn't impact the game. Moving forward as the starter, Villanueva has the full support from his teammates, and David DeCastro thinks the line won't miss a beat with "Big Al" at left tackle.
"He's already gotten some action, so it shouldn't be much of a shock," DeCastro said. "He just needs to play fast. If you're going to make a mistake, do it going full speed. He can't afford to hesitate because it's the worst thing he can do."
This wasn't the way Villanueva wanted to see playing time, but the situation is what it is, and he looks to take advantage.
"When Beachum was on the ground, you're thinking you don't want to see a guy end his season like that," he said. "We're all hoping he'll be fine."
Beachum will likely be fine after surgery and rehab, but with Beachum's contract due to end at the end of this season, Villanueva has an opportunity to show he can be the team's left tackle moving forward. Opportunities like this don't come around often, and never do for some players. Villanueva seems poised to make his mark on this unit starting Sunday.
Play hard, play fast and play smart. Three things emphasized throughout the Steelers locker room which Villanueva will certainly attempt to put on tape when the team travels to Arrowhead Stadium this Sunday to play the Kansas City Chiefs.