Brian Mihalik Brings Optimism, Intrigue In Move To Offensive Tackle

One day at a time. It’s a simple philosophy. You don’t climb Mt. Everest in an afternoon. Figuratively, you take it in chunks. Literally, in steps.

The same could be said about becoming an offensive linemen. One day, one step at a time. That’s the message the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive tackle Brian Mihalik, converting from defensive end, received. No one says it’s easy. Neither is climbing a mountain. But hey, it’s been done.

There are two cursory facts most associate with Mihalik. Height, he’s every bit of 6’9, and hockey background, though only for the fact he substituted the ice for the court in the winter. But his hockey days were finished by middle school and football became the main focus by sophomore year.

Where that first step in Pittsburgh would be was initially an uncertainty. He went to Boston College as a defensive end, was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles as such, and had a winter workout with Pittsburgh mainly going through defensive drills.

But the Steelers floated the idea of a position switch.

“They kind of took a look at me and my frame and said, ‘have you ever done any offensive tackle stuff?’ And I had done a little bit, I had done it at my Pro Day for some teams and things like that. So they put me through some offensive line drills and then they told me at that point, once the season was over, they were going to sign me. And they were going to let me know at that time what I’d be playing.”

When Pittsburgh called on January 20th, it was to announce they’d be signing him. As an offensive tackle. A sudden change but in Mihalik’s mind, not an intimidating one.

“It wasn’t too concerning. I actually had people telling me I should play tackle since high school. Some of the teams coming out of high school recruited me to play tackle.”

“I said, well, I guess I better start working on it.”

A challenge, but one embraced. If there’s a city for such a switch to work, it’s Pittsburgh. Alejandro Villanueva followed a nearly identical path. A defensive end with the Eagles, transformed into a tackle under Mike Munchak in Pittsburgh. Both players have been instrumental in Mihalik making a smooth transition. As much as there can be one.

“[Munchak] just knows so much because he’s been around both as a player and a coach. It’s just one of those things, every single day, you try to go into the meetings room and listen to everything he has to say. Because if you’re listening you’re always going to pick up a good amount of knowledge from him.”

Villanueva offers perspective even Munchak can’t provide, knowing exactly the transition Mihalik is being asked to make.

“I was doing something the other day with my strikes and [Villanueva] said, ‘you’re kind of using your hands like a defensive linemen. You gotta grab a different way, you gotta do this, you gotta do that.’ It’s just been really helpful because he’s gone through the process before and he knows what to look for.”

Mihalik has most of the weight Villanueva needed to pack on. Villanueva added over 100 pounds in 18 months. Mihalik sits at 320, only 20 pounds heavier than Philadelphia. He can focus on his craft, not calories.

He’s worked on the left and right side during the spring, something that will continue in the fall, switching off weekly as is the norm. He has no preference to either side, citing positive aspects about left and right tackle.

“I’m left handed so I kind of always have been in a left handed stance. So from that aspect, left feels a little more comfortable. But I think sometimes my footwork in the run game is a little better on the right side.”

One day at a time. That’s the first thing Munchak told Mihalik.

“It’s going to be a process to learn,” Mihalik recalls of that initial conversation with his coach. “You’re not going to be able to jump in right away and feel like you’re doing everything perfectly. It’s just going to be a process of learning and getting as many reps as you can.”

Maybe that’s the toughest part of all. There’s the physical element, football at the highest level, but the mental game is just as daunting.  There will be moments where he looks like a former defensive end trying to play tackle. A bad rep, a bad practice, a chewing out from one of the coaches. It’s not fun to think about but for someone in his situation, it’s a given.

But when you climb a mountain, you might lose your footing. It’s all about getting back up. And that’s all Mihalik wants to prove to himself and his coaches.

“I just want to come in every day and compete and show them I’m improving every day.”

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • budabar

    Building a massive and athletic OL

  • Big White

    Interesting….

  • If they are even remotely successful transitioning this guy, you can bet other teams will follow suit and start their own projects. One thing we have that they don’t though is Munchak. I can’t say enough how lucky we are to have him.

  • Craig M

    Similar to the design of the great HC Hank Stram.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Back in 2004 (when we drafted Max Starks) Kevin Colbert was asked what he saw in the young prospect. He admitted that Starks was not the quickest, or strongest, or most technically sound, but the reason why they drafted him was his SIZE. He said, “You can’t teach teach size and length.”

    I believe that has been a prevailing theme in the Colbert area as far as his acquisition of offensive tackles are concerned. And I believe the Rooneys are in agreement. Colbert constantly seeks out “size” at that position (whenever possible) even at the expense of production or experience level.

    Max Starks 6’8″, Flozell Adams 6’7″, Marcus Gilbert 6’6″, Mike Adams 6’7″, Alejandro Villanueva 6’9″.

    That’s not to say he won’t bring in smaller guys. But I don’t think he places any “real” value on them. Kelvin Beachum was as technically sound at LT as you could hope for. But I think his size played a significant role in Colbert deciding not to pay him long term starting LT money.

    But I don’t think Colbert’s philosophy worked very well UNTIL… he hired Mike Munchak. Marvel Smith was always good but not great. Max Starks was good but not great. And so on. And so on. But now that Munchak is here we are seeing flashes of “greatness” from all our offensive lineman. Especially our tackles.

    I am amazed at the way Marcus Gilbert has improved. He absolutely dominated the best left edge rusher in the league (Von Miller). But it’s more than that. HIs body looks better. His form looks better. His balance looks better. And he seems to have an understanding of HOW to block better.

    Villanueva went from no experience to starter in like a one year period. If Munchak can turn either A.V. or Mihalik into a quality starting left tackle we should build him a statue.

  • Alex Kozora

    Yeah, I mean, there’s no question adding Mike Munchak has been a massive help. I will say that Smith was a really talented guy who just suffered from back/neck problems, shortening his career, and Starks was decent to pretty good.

  • Hypo Cycloid

    They are liking the AV transition apparently. It seems they aren’t so concerned about the overly tall talk that so many seem to think is such a hindrance. They are looking to copycat AV in fact.

  • LucasY59

    I would say the injury had much more influence than his size (once he made the starter position, and played well, his size became irrelevant)

    The $ also became a huge part of letting him go, they couldnt afford to keep him and some of the other players they needed to keep (AV played well enough they didnt need to invest in Beach) getting Harris cheap also helped

  • LucasY59

    I would really like it if he sticks on the Practice Squad this yr, and If he turns out as well as AV (Mihalik could be good enough to become a swing backup) and IF AV solidifies himself as the future starter, the Depth at OT would be crazy (so good that the rumored switch to OG with Hawkins could become more of a reality)

    Hawkins becomes the future LG starter after Foster retires (who could also move out to Tackle if needed) and Finney becomes a good C/G backup = 7 quality OL, maybe one more OG depth guy next draft and they are set for the future (without investing anymore early rd draft picks!)

    I am expecting a lot for a couple long shot guys, but what I have seen so far from AV (and my faith in Munchak) I think it has a good chance of becoming reality (and Al being able to help Brian in his transition also) gives me even more reason to believe it could work out.

  • Dshoff

    I think that it’s just crazy how well Vill has done. It’s just great to see, and he could become a pro bowl player if he keeps improving. However, I don’t really expect lightening to strike twice, which is what I think of the new guys chances. But if anybody can make it happen, it’s Munchak.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Kelvin Beachum was injured Sunday, October 18, 2015. Week 6 of the regular season. The injury didn’t happen until AFTER the Steelers typical pre-season extension signing period. A.V. had never played a snap. That came after the season.

    If the Steelers really wanted Beachum long term, they would’ve locked him up in the pre-season of the final year of his contract (like they did with Pouncey and Gilbert and will shortly do with DeCastro). The Steelers typically wait to sign the guys they view “less highly” until after their final year and let them test free agency first (like they did with Foster and were prepared to do with Beachum).

    The Steelers offered Beachum a modest deal both before his final year and after he recovered from his injury. So I believe your claim that… “Beachum’s injury had much more influence than his size”… is not accurate. It was the amount of MONEY Beachum wanted that was the main factor (as you pointed out later).

    The question is… Why did the Steelers view Beachum so differently than Starks, when their production was so similar? Colbert crippled our salary cap to keep Starks (franchise+transition tags) and yet he wouldn’t budge on Beachum. And we were in a far tighter cap situation back then.

    I believe Beachum didn’t fit the “mold” of a franchise left tackle in Colbert’s mind. It didn’t matter how good his technique was, he wasn’t going to give him elite money, because he didn’t view him as an elite athlete (even though his stats were solid). I’m not saying that’s the ONLY reason Colbert didn’t pay him. But if Beachum were 6’7″ 320 pounds and put up those same stats, I believe Colbert would’ve treated him like Max Starks. Just my opinion.

  • LucasY59

    Beach Banked on his future, The Steelers werent going to over pay on an extension

    (see AB’s contract, as an example of getting a discount when extending players, Pouncey and DeCastro were extended off their 5th yr options as 1st rd picks, so the investment was there from the start, plus both achieved All Pro Status during their rookie contracts, Gilbert’s contract is not big $ (for a starting OT) he is getting paid what an Avg starter for the position makes, IF he makes the Pro Bowl this yr it will be a discount price, so his extension would be in the teams favor on that as well)

    Kelvin wanted more $ and was not going to take a extension Last yr, and waited until the market showed how much he was worth (he’s basically doing it again with how his contract is structured in Jacksonville)

    The big difference I see between Beach and Starks is that AV is there to fill in so they werent forced to re-sign Beachum, like they were with Starks and his Transition tag (and maybe after going through the tough Salary cap period, the FO learned and are avoiding that mistake again)

    They offered to re-sign Beach before (and during) FA this yr, but were again not going to overpay on a guy that was coming off a recent injury (a team like the Jags had cap space and offered more) I dont think size was the main factor in him leaving ($ is the biggest factor, coupled with an injury and a suitable replacement)

    I will say that there is a definite size prototype/preference that they look for/like in their OTs (Adams, Gilbert, Adams, Villanueva, Mihalik and Starks prove it) but if a guy can play the position well they will use him regardless of size (if they were that stuck on it, Beach wouldve been on the bench and they wouldve killed Ben by being stubborn (about size) and kept Adams at LT)