LATROBE -- The four mainstays of the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line have combined for 278 starts, five Pro Bowls, two team Rookie-of-Year awards and a Chief Award.
The fifth guy, a relative newcomer with only 12 starts, is a 6-9, 320-pounder with good enough feet to have played wide receiver in college and enough toughness to have earned a chest full of medals as an Army Ranger captain during three tours in Afghanistan.
Of course, Alejandro Villanueva doesn't believe that size, agility and his unfathomable courage are enough to allow him to just walk into camp this season and be the finishing touch on what very well could be the best offensive line in football. He thinks he has too much work ahead of him.
"You're right, it is about finishing the job," said Villanueva. "It's something that has to be on all of us, and I have to work really hard. But I think I have good guidance and all the tools necessary from the team to be able to get it done. So from that angle, it puts a lot more on me and I just have to make sure I go out there and perform."
Villanueva, of course, changed positions when he joined the Steelers in 2014. He spent that season on the practice squad learning under esteemed OL Coach Mike Munchak and moved into the starting lineup at left tackle the following season when Kelvin Beachum went down with an injury.
Villanueva performed so well and showed so much promise the Steelers allowed Beachum to leave in free agency, and they signed a veteran free agent who''s more likely to become the reserve swing tackle.
Of course, that veteran, Ryan Harris, was the starting left tackle for the champion Denver Broncos last season, and the Steelers alternate Villanueva and Harris every day on the first team. The coaches say it's a competition, but those in the know believe the job is Villanueva's due to his vast potential.
Of course, don't ask Villanueva if he's thinking that way.
"I've got to get more reps," he said. "I'm not like the rest of this O-line. I still have a lot of reps to take and a lot of improvement to make."
Villanueva said he gets along well with Harris, who's yet another intelligent professional in a line Notre Damers who've ended up in Pittsburgh.
"He's an unbelievable guy," Villanueva said. "He's a class act. Very, very smart. A very, very good person. I was actually surprised at overall what a great human being he is."
Villanueva, an admitted self-motivator, said he didn't really need the push from the acquisition of Harris, but did say that "Obviously the competition makes you look at things a little differently. It's been really good for the team I think."
This offensive line is what's really good for the team, and Villanueva has the potential to make it really great for the team.
BELL READY TO ROCK
In spite of a looming four-game suspension, Le'Veon Bell is being prepared for and preparing like he's going to start the first game of the season.
Perhaps there's something about his appeal the Steelers know that we don't, but Bell is running in practice as if he's getting the call.
He won't talk about his appeal, but he's happy about his recovery from a torn MCL and PCL last November.
"I don't even think about my knee when I'm playing," Bell said. "There's been a lot of rehab, a lot of hard work, a lot of things, a lot of exercises I've done in the weight room and on the field to help me get to this point."
Bell said he's not sure how, or even if, Mike Tomlin will use him this preseason, which begins Friday at Heinz Field against the Detroit Lions. Bell said he would like to play as much as possible.
"I want to do team run," Bell said of the 11v11 run scrimmages in which he rarely participates. "Obviously they're protecting me from myself. They want to get me ready for the first week of the season. I'm just going to follow protocol and do what they want me to do so I'm healthy and going out there feeling good and ready."
FEENEY NOT FRUSTRATED
Travis Feeney continues to miss time this training camp, but the Steelers knew the sixth-round pick would need to rehabilitate the sports hernia he played with last season at the University of Washington.
Feeney missed spring workouts and so far much of this training camp. His position coach, Joey Porter, said the first week of camp that he doesn't expect the problem to cost Feeney a spot because of Feeney's speed and potential to help special teams. But, Feeney is at least 20 pounds lighter than most of the other outside linebackers and is attempting to move up from the off-the-ball linebacking position he played in Washington's 4-3.
In spite of those obstacles, the rookie said he's not frustrated.
"No, I'm fine," he said. "I know I've got to show, but I'll be back at it again soon."
OFFENSE RALLIES IN GOAL-LINE DRILL
The offense scored on the last three plays to beat the defense, 4-3, in the camp goal-line drill Sunday.
Perhaps to avenge a 4-3 loss in the short-yardage drill earlier in practice, the first-team offense remained on the field throughout the goal-line drill and rallied against the second-team defense.null