First, as a guy in his second round of OTAs and mini-camp with the Steelers, noticing anything different with the team and schemes this season?
Not really – it’s the same thing as last year – pretty much the same stuff. Same coaches…same players…
Your story is an interesting one – very similar to Alejandro Villinueva’s. You came out of college two years ago as a defensive lineman and are not playing offensive tackle. Talk a bit about how that happened.
I was drafted by Philadelphia last year in the seventh round. I was on their practice squad then got hurt and released. I worked out for Pittsburgh as a defensive lineman. But at the end of the workout Kevin Colbert asked me to do some offensive line work and out me through some drills. He told me when the season was over he’d sign me. But before the season ended I got a call from my agent and he told me Pittsburgh was signing me then – as an offensive tackle.
Was your head spinning – being signed to an entirely new position? Were you comfortable with it?
I was excited for it. In high school I was recruited for the offensive line. And I wasn’t getting many calls for me to play defense. There were one or two other teams possibly interested in me as an offensive lineman. I was just happy to be signed.
What do you think it was that Colbert saw in you that made him think “offensive line”?
I think my size and athleticism. I have good feet and just look like an offensive tackle. It was just one of those things – he just liked how I did in the drills.
In terms of your size – how does your size hinder and help you as a lineman? And have you spoken with Villinueva – he also being a very tall tackle?
I think it has positives and negatives. My longer reach keeps guys away from my body. But it’s hard to – I have to keep my pad level down and bend my knees more. It has positives and challenges – I’m learning as I go.
I do talk with Alejandro a lot about the position. He’s been very helpful – he sees what I’m doing and has been a great resource.
It seems like roster-wise, there’s an opening at backup offensive tackle. How do you see it?
There’s a job there for backup swing tackle there yeah. Me, Hawkins, and Hubbard are all vying for that spot to dress on Sundays – that eight-to-nine spot.
What will it take to nab that spot – anything you hear from the coaches that you need to work on?
Nobody says anything like that. It’s just about getting more reps. Last year I was hurt the first preseason game and that set me back. It was a bit unfortunate. I just need more reps in camp with pads and let the physicality take over.
As far as that physicality and defensive mindset, as an offensive lineman now what do you need to do to temper that defensive mindset and how does it help?
I just need to be more patient as an offensive lineman. As a defensive tackle you are looking to make a play. But as an offensive lineman – you just do your job every play. The big thing is staying on an even keel – not too high with the highs or too low.
The defensive line experience does help a bit too. You can see what’s coming. The different alignments and aggressive nature is something I know.
Looking at this offense – anything different your seeing?
Not scheme-wise. The key pieces are back – we have more weapons. We’re not different in scheme just more comfortable and confident as we continue to play together.
Last season, after being waived by the Steelers and being signed by Detroit, the Steelers signed you off of Detroit’s practice squad to their roster. In one season you went from college defensive lineman to NFL offensive tackle on a playoff roster. Was your head spinning?
I was surprised but glad they wanted me back. Injuries opened a spot on the roster. I didn’t play but dressed for a couple of games. I’m glad they had confidence in me.
So – you’re an injury away from playing offensive tackle for the Steelers on game day one year removed from being a college defensive lineman…
I was focused in. I was really two injuries away but still…when you see guys hobbling in practice you think: “I’m one guy away…”
As far as the offensive line – who are the leaders on that line? And any hazing/jokes you saw in the locker room?
The whole offensive line group – it’s tight-knit. They all have each other’s back. There’s no one leader. We have two Pro Bowlers – all have their thing to add.
I avoided the hazing, coming to the Steelers year two. But Hawkins paid for a few dinners on his credit card…
Recently, the Penguins brought the Stanley Cup to the Steelers. How motivating was that for the team? Was it – or was it more just a “good for them” moment?
I saw the Cup – they brought it into the locker room. I was on my way to the showers and had a meeting with the coaches, but it was a cool thing. A part of the city. The whole offensive line went to game five of the finals. It was great to feed off that energy. We’re looking forward to doing that as well.
Nobody got kicked out like Boswell did?
Ha – no. No one was kicked out…
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