LATROBE, Pa. (AP) — Matt Feiler was a perfectly capable fill in at right tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season.
Now, the journeyman offensive lineman wants to prove his worth as the starting right tackle following the offseason departure of Marcus Gilbert.
“I’ve been working guard mostly since I’ve been here, so getting the opportunity to play tackle again during the season just made me feel good about the hard work the coaches saw me put in and just the effort and everything,” Feiler said. “It was good exposure for me and just good to help out and show my versatility.”
Feiler saw action in 11 games during the 2018 season with 10 starts. All of Feiler’s starts were at right tackle in place of Gilbert, who was sidelined with an injury and eventually placed on the team’s injured reserve list. The Steelers traded Gilbert to Arizona in March, clearing the way for Feiler to move into a starting role at right tackle.
“The coaches always talk about being the next man up, and unfortunate things happen in the league,” Feiler said. “You have to be prepared and stay ready for whatever comes your way.”
Feiler has taken the majority of the first-team snaps at right tackle during the team’s training camp practices at St. Vincent College. But the Steelers have plenty of depth behind Feiler, including Chukwuma Okorafor, a third-round pick in 2018, and Jerald Hawkins, the team’s 2016 fourth-round selection.
Feiler understands the starting right tackle job isn’t locked down just yet.
“It’s a competition every day,” Feiler said. “I just have to keep working hard.”
Feiler’s teammates were pleased with the way the third-year pro filled in along the offensive line.
“It’s hard the first time you have to play multiple games like that and fill the starting role week in and week out,” right guard David DeCastro said. “I thought he did a great job. He got some good experience in and I can only see him getting better.”
The 6-foot-6, 330-pound Feiler played five games in 2017 and made his first NFL start during the regular-season finale at guard. His second NFL start came as a tackle last season during Week 3 at Tampa Bay. It was his first meaningful start at tackle since 2013 while playing at Division II Bloomsburg.
“I think he’s coming along really well, and he’s showing himself to be a true pro,” left guard Ramon Foster said. “Now, being at tackle for the most part, he’s getting a chance to really specialize at being a tackle. It’s a lot different than being a guard, but I’m excited for him.”
The 27-year-old Feiler was part of an offensive line that helped Ben Roethlisberger lead the NFL in passing yards and establish a franchise record with 34 touchdown passes. The offensive line also helped running back James Conner reach the Pro Bowl in his first season as starter. That came after Le’Veon Bell declined to sign his franchise tender and opted to sit out his final season with the Steelers.
The Steelers’ offensive line also allowed 24 sacks, fourth-fewest in the league.
“Just throughout the year, he got more and more comfortable,” DeCastro said. “It wasn’t a specific moment, but over time you saw him really settling in. He has a unique strength and he’s able to bend, which is what you want as a lineman. He looks good, he looks comfortable.”
Feiler also feels that he is ready to take the next step as the starting right tackle for the Steelers.
“I just have to keep working,” Feiler said. “There’s always work to be done and things to get better at. That’s what I keep on planning to do.”
Notes: The Steelers held an open training camp practice at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Sunday night. The team returns to St. Vincent College on Tuesday following a Monday off day.