Seven months as part of the organization was long enough for Brian Mihalik to embrace being a Steeler.
It was enough for the team to see enough of Mihalik to want him around, too.
Mihalik became the Steelers’ newest backup tackle and became a member of an NFL active 53-man roster for the first time when he signed a contract with the Steelers on Monday.
Mihalik came to the team this week by way of the Detroit Lions’ practice squad. But he was known to the organization from the time he spent as Steelers property: Mihalik arrived in town when he signed a reserve/futures deal in January, and he left upon being waived/injured after sustaining a knee injury in the preseason opener against the Lions.
As part of the NFL’s waived/injured process, a team and a player work out an injury settlement. For Mihalik, he said Wednesday that was a six-week settlement (in effect, he was paid for six weeks of service because it was agreed that his injury would take six weeks to heal). In an NFL rule designed to prevent teams from stockpiling young, developmental talent under the guise of injury, a team cannot re-sign a player it reached an injury settlement with for a time span of three weeks following the conclusion of the injury term the parties agreed to.
Got that? In short, in Mihalik’s particular case, the Steelers could not sign him for a period of nine weeks.
What a nine weeks that was, too, for the Steelers at offensive tackle. Two of the top three on the organizational depth chart (starting RT Marcus Gilbert and top swing backup OT Ryan Harris) were injured, with Harris being out for the year. Two weeks ago, the Steelers signed Matt Feiler off the practice squad to serve as a backup (converted guard Chris Hubbard has started the past two games at right tackle).
Anyway, as soon as the Steelers were able (nine weeks after they waive/injured him), the Steelers brought back Mihalik.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Mihalik said after his first practice back with the team. “It’s an organization I felt comfortable with in the spring and in the summer; it’s a real blessing to be able to come back here and be on the 53-man roster.”
Mihalik said he felt there was a chance he could be back after he was let go in August; he’d been having a strong camp in his first practice reps at any level at offensive tackle.
Mihalik was a defensive end in college, he spent a year with the Philadelphia Eagles as a defensive end and he stands 6 feet 9. If that description is familiar, it also fits the Steelers’ starting left tackle, Alejandro Villanueva.
Villanueva is one of the latest in a long line of success stories in the coaching career of Penn State graduate Mike Munchak, the Steelers’ offensive line coach. Even simply by making a 53-man roster, Mihalik is Munchak’s next.
“Obviously, (Munchak) knows just as much as anybody in the business,” Mihalik said. “Along with him and all the veteran (offensive linemen), they are really helpful, so it’s definitely a good place for a young guy like me who’s just learning the position.”
Villanueva spent an entire year on the practice squad in making his transition from defense – although he did not have the benefit of an offseason and training camp to do so (Villanueva was a waiver claim at the end of the 2014 preseason).
Twelve months after making the transition to offense, Villanueva was serving as the Steelers’ backup tackle (two months later, he became a starter after Kelvin Beachum was injured).
Nine-and-a-half months after making the transition to offense, Mihalik is serving as the Steelers’ backup tackle. He’s one injury away from being thrust into a starter’s role, just days after re-signing with the team.
Mihalik said he remembers the playbook from camp and has been brushing up on it this week. “I am preparing for the possibility of me playing,” he said.
“He’s a very smart player, so he knows all the plays,” Villanueva said of Mihalik. “He’s got that for him. He… got all the attention and coaching of OTAs and training camp, and now he’s being treated to the same standard as everyone else. And Munchak would never allow –the o-line would never allow – somebody stepping on the field without being ready. So if he does step in there, he’s going to be ready to go.”