Allen Park — At one of the most important positions on the field, the Lions could be starting a relative unknown this week.
Meet Brian Mihalik.
In his second stint with the Lions after being claimed off waivers prior to the start of the regular season, the former defensive lineman is in line to be protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford’s blindside if starting left tackle Greg Robinson’s ankle doesn’t heal quickly.
Mihalik has appeared in all six games for the Lions this season, but was limited to special teams, before injuries to Rick Wagner and Robinson forced him into action along the offensive line against the New Orleans Saints.
It wasn’t exactly a memorable performance for the 6-foot-9 tackle. He surrendered a sack after he was driven back into Stafford by defensive end Cam Jordan, plus three quarterback pressures on 22 pass-blocking snaps. Most of his struggles came in the six plays he was in on the right side, filling in for Wagner. Mihalik settled down once he was shifted to the left to replace Robinson.
Mihalik admitted it was a bit chaotic against the Saints and he hopes to be better prepared if he’s called upon again this week. It doesn’t hurt that he spent much of last season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday’s opponent.
“It can help out a little bit,” Mihalik said. “I’m familiar having practiced against some of their guys. It’s a matter of getting down our techniques, getting down our scheme and feeling as comfortable as I can.”
It was the Steelers that converted Mihalik from a defensive lineman to an offensive tackle. And when the Lions signed him to the practice squad last October, the Steelers quickly poached him back for the active roster.
“He was a hard-working guy for us,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said during a conference call with Detroit reporters Wednesday. “That guy was a defensive lineman at Boston College. He really bought into the techniques and worked extremely hard, and what’s going on with him is no accident. He deserves that opportunity and I’m sure he’s excited about it.”
The Steelers don’t have a dominant pass-rusher, but they have a number of guys capable of disrupting the pocket. At left tackle, Mihalik would likely see a hefty dose of rookie linebacker T.J. Watt, who rushes primarily from that side, as well as defensive tackle Cameron Heyward running stunts.
Both Watt and Heyward have four sacks, tied for the team lead.