Tomlin: Matt Feiler, Tyson Alualu Get First Shots to Start for Steelers
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers head into training camp - whenever that may be - with two major position battles; offensive line and defensive tackle.
After losing Ramon Foster to retirement and Javon Hargrave to the Philadelphia Eagles, the team will need to find two new starters in a shortened amount of time.
By signing Stefen Wisniewski in free agency, the Steelers did add depth and a starting-caliber guard. However, without stepping foot into a Steelers facility yet, Wisniewski will begin camp with an entire offseason of learning to grasp.
Head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters on Tuesday that he's aware of the circumstance, and the disadvantage it puts himself and his players in.
"No question that we as coaches are going to have less tools for the evaluation process," Tomlin said in a Zoom call. "Just in terms of volume, the number of snaps will be significantly less. You have to acknowledge that there's an element of teaching that's been lost in the virtual offseason, and that can affect the competition, at least at the initial stages. The big thing is we have to leave the door open for viable men, and those men have to move quickly in terms of developing, understanding, and displaying that understanding. There's going to be big-time urgency in that regard, but it'll be urgency that is felt globally. There will be challenges for all 32, and from that standpoint, it's going to be competitively fair."
To determine who will fill the roles of missing Foster and Hargrave, Tomlin and the coaching staff need to change their perspective.
"We're still determining those things," Tomlin said. "With the lack of opportunity for learning in the offseason and teaching, we're acknowledging as a staff that we have to make some quick decisions and then kind of role from there."
But the head coach does have an idea of who will get the first chance to prove themselves. Tomlin confirmed that Matt Feiler would get training camp's first snap at left guard and Tyson Alualu at nose tackle.
"We don't have time to mess around in this environment. We lost 900 snaps like everybody did, with the virtual offseason," Tomlin said. "So, you got to give the benefit of the doubt to people who've been here, at least as the basis to begin, and that's the way we're going to begin to training camp process, knowing that the process is going to be an abbreviated one. So those that have experience and have been a part of this thing are probably going to have a leg up, just as a basis to begin."
As for filling the right tackle position once Feiler moves back to guard, Zach Banner and Chuks Okorafor are primed to step into the role.
Tomlin said the combination of the two provides the "most experience" at the position. Banner is entering his third season with the team after short stints with the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers. He signed a one-year, $1.75 million contract this offseason.
Okorafor was drafted by the Steelers in 2018 and has bounced back and forth as an active player on Sundays.
As for Alualu, Tomlin expects his experience to allow him to step into the role, although he isn't ruling out Dan McCullers as a possibility.
For now, this plan is only set in stone until the players hit the field.
"Tyson [Alualu] is a veteran football player that's been here, that knows how to play the game," Tomlin said. "He and Dan [McCullers] are probably going to start, but he'll probably take the first snap based on the things that I've talked about, relative to current circumstances and then we'll go from there.
"We're gonna have a hardcore plan, but be light on our feet and be ready to adjust based on what it is that we see."