Pros and Cons of Steelers Offensive Line Options

Evaluating the outlook for every possible starting five of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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With the 2020 season fast approaching, there are still some question marks along the Steelers offensive line. 

Three positions are set; Alejandro Villanueva will start at left tackle, Maurkice Pouncey will be the center, and David DeCastro will continue his great career at right guard. That leaves two positions on the offensive line open, with five players to fill them. 

We know Matt Feiler will be a starter, we just don’t know where. So essentially four players are fighting for one starting spot. Here’s a closer look at the potential offensive line groupings, and the pros and cons of each

Group 1

  • Alejandro Villanueva
  • Matt Feiler
  • Maurkice Pouncey
  • David DeCastro
  • Chuks Okorafor/Zach Banner

After Ramon Foster announced his retirement, this pairing was the presumed starting unit. The only question mark was who would win the starting job at right tackle between Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor. Feiler would kick into left guard, a position he played once last year, and performed well at.

 This offensive line grouping would provide the Steelers the benefit of getting a closer look at either Banner or Okorafor as a full-time starter. Villanueva is a free agent next year and either one of these guys could be his replacement at left tackle if he’s not brought back. The 2020 season could provide whoever wins the position battle some experience as a full-time starter and an audition of sorts to potentially replace Villanueva next year. 

Okorafor is entering the third year of his rookie deal, and Banner will be playing this season on a one-year contract. So each guy will be highly motivated to perform well and earn another contract with the team. 

One future downside to this starting unit could be the effects of Feiler kicking into left guard. If Villanueva, Banner, or both leave Pittsburgh after the 2020 season, Feiler might be asked to move back out to either tackle position the following year. 

It’s not ideal for a player to play musical chairs from year to year, though Feiler has the work ethic and versatility to do so. 

Along with that, this offensive line unit wouldn’t see rookie Kevin Dotson get much experience. He has the potential to be a full-time starter as early as 2021 (though don’t rule him out yet for this year) and it would be beneficial to get him some work as a rookie.

Group 2

  • Alejandro Villanueva
  • Stefen Wisniewski
  • Maurkice Pouncey
  • David DeCastro
  • Matt Feiler

Though his contract wouldn’t suggest it, don’t be surprised to see Stefen Wisniewski find his way into the starting lineup. 

The veteran interior offensive lineman is capable of playing both guard positions and center. If neither Okorafor nor Banner can win the starting right tackle job in training camp, Wisniewski might find his way into the starting lineup with Feiler staying at right tackle. 

Potentially shortened training camps and offseason activities increase the likelihood of this starting unit. Banner and Okorafor will both have less time to prove themselves as potential starters. The position battle won’t have as much time to sort itself out. 

If that’s the case, it would come down to Dotson and Wisniewski for the left guard spot. Again, the shortened offseason program could favor Wisniewski in this situation. Dotson will probably need time to adjust to being an NFL lineman, especially if he’s asked to transition from right guard to left guard. It would also take less time for a veteran like Wisniewski to build chemistry with the other veteran offensive linemen than it would take Dotson to build the same chemistry. 

By far the biggest drawback in this scenario would be if Pouncey would get hurt, causing Wisniewski to move in and play center. Then, if Dotson isn’t ready yet to slide in at left guard, Feiler would have to replace Wisniewski there, and Okorafor or Banner would have to come off the bench and fill in at right tackle. 

This is a fair argument, but at the same time, the starting linemen should be the best five players. A starting unit shouldn’t be weakened to be better prepared for an injury to a starter. If Wisniewski is the best option at left guard, then he should be the starter, and a replacement scenario for Pouncey would have to be addressed if the situation would arise.

Group 3

  • Alejandro Villanueva
  • Kevin Dotson
  • Maurkice Pouncey
  • David DeCastro
  • Matt Feiler

 While this starting unit might be the least likely at this point, it just might be the grouping with the highest upside. As previously stated, the switch from right guard to left guard won’t be easy for Dotson, especially with a shortened offseason. But he’ll have to make the move over at some point because DeCastro isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. If he’s ready right away, there’s no reason not to insert Dotson and get his career started. 

An interior linemen group of DeCastro, Pouncey, and Dotson would be downright mean. If Pittsburgh wants to get back to the power running scheme of yesteryear, then this would be a good trio of linemen to do it with. All three of these guys are phenomenal run blockers, bulldozers if that’s what you want to call them. 

Opposing defensive players won’t like what they see if a pulling Pouncey is coming their way joined by DeCastro or Dotson with James Conner following behind them. It’s fun just thinking about it. 

The unfortunate news here is that it would be asking a lot of Dotson to come in and be ready to start week one. He’s already winning over Steelers fans and has very impressive tape, but like most rookies, he’ll take some time to adjust to life in the NFL. 

Another downside of this situation is that it would mean neither Banner nor Okorafor were able to impress the coaching staff enough to win the starting right tackle job. This would be a letdown, as Banner was solid last year as the team’s sixth linemen and Okorafor is a former third-round pick that the team still has high hopes for. If neither are able to perform well in camp, we can only hope that Dotson performs well and offsets the disappointment.

There are several different ways the Steeler could go with their starting offensive line unit. The good news is that they have a good mix of young talent, established veterans, and plenty of depth. 

If the original starting group doesn’t work out as well as anticipated, there will be plenty of different ways to switch things up. Between Banner, Okorafor, Wisniewski, and Dotson, someone will stand out and establish themselves as a sure starter. There’s a lot of talent among those four players, and one of them will help improve an offensive line that had a down season in 2019. 

Connor Deitrich is a Contributor with AllSteelers. Follow Connor on Twitter @CDeitrich22, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.