Alejandro Villanueva Addresses Media Via Zoom
As you know, going from the Steelers to the Ravens doesn’t happen with a lot of players. What’s your feeling going to kind of the archrival of the Steelers? Have you heard any feedback from Steelers fans since doing so? (Jamison Hensley)
“I think my focus is on the transition of learning a new playbook – that’s where my attention is right now. It’s obviously a very different playbook, different plays [and] a new position. So, my head right now is in learning and getting to know my teammates, the coaches [and] the lingo. I’ve heard from obviously my teammates back in Pittsburgh. I keep a really good relationship with them, but not from the fans. I don’t … I have very little communication with the outside world. So, it’s a little tough for me down here in south Florida for me to hear from Steelers fans.”
I just wanted to ask you about how tough a transition do you feel like it will be going from left tackle to right tackle for you? (Ryan Mink)
“I think the transition is going to be more into the playbook of the Ravens than it is going to be from left tackle to right tackle, because so many of the plays are so different. As you probably know in Pittsburgh, we threw the ball a lot from a two-point stance. We had the vertical set. We were trying to sort all the blitzers that were coming from Baltimore and different formations and whatnot. So, this playbook is a lot more of what I used to do in college, which is it doesn’t matter if you put your right or left hand down, you’re probably going to be far enough off the ball [and] get good angles. So, for me, that’s the transition that I want to get back into. The left to right tackle is not as important, because we’re not going to be, hopefully, throwing the ball 800 times a season.”
All that being said, ESPN reporter Jamison Hensley’s question about going from the Steelers to the Ravens, was it a little weird being in the Ravens facility a couple weeks ago? How was the visit? Did you kind of think when you visited that this could be the result of that? (Jeff Zrebiec)
“Well … I think for me, the free agency process was somewhat of a mystery, because I’ve never been a free agent like this before after playing in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has always been a class-act organization and they let me know that I was not coming back to the team very shortly after the season. So, from there, I’m an undrafted player. I’ve always had that title attached to my name and that title attached to [my] journey. It’s interesting how in the NFL you get these labels of who you are, whether you’re a first-rounder or a Top 10. I’m sure college players always talk about the SEC as the division that all the good players go to. So, for me, being from a small school, undrafted, I’ve always had the urge to try to get with NFL teams. Obviously, if it’s a good team like the Ravens, a great organization that has been respected across the NFL, especially from the Steelers building, it wasn’t really a tough decision. The meeting was phenomenal. I love [offensive line] Coach [Joe] D’Alessandris. He reminds me a lot of [former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line] Coach [Mike] Munchak. He coaches principles and coaches the minds of the players. So, it’s something that I obviously look forward to getting into. Everybody from top to bottom was pretty awesome and as expected and as advertised.”
Just going back to the whole Steelers/Ravens… It’s the biggest rivalry in the NFL, as you’re well aware. You talked about how the Steelers informed you. Do you feel like in any way they gave up on you? I mean, you’re a guy who started every game the last five years over at left tackle and gave them everything you could. They let you go, and you end up with their divisional rival. (Jerry Coleman)
“No, I just think that everybody makes business decisions. The Steelers have to make their decisions, and then obviously myself, or my agent has to inform me of what my options are in the future. I’m not sure. You’d have to ask the Steelers and their front office, but I’m sure that there were many factors involving salary cap, the direction the team was going to and whatnot. For me, the options were not plenty. So, the fact that I knew the Ravens as a team, as a team that plays hard, a team that plays AFC North-type of football and I’d have a chance to play against the Steelers as well was something that motivated [me] coming here for sure.”
I’m curious, when you went back to 2014, you had to actually pay $245 to go to a Combine to get to this point now. When you were going through that process seven years ago, and you didn’t play football for four years, where did you get the internal belief to think you could make this happen and get to this point? Did you really think back then this could be where you could get to? (Pete Gilbert)
“That’s a very good question and a question that deserves a very long answer. But long story short, in 2014 was when the United States announced the drawdown from the troops in Afghanistan. So, at that moment I knew that my career as an officer, I would probably not be deployed to combat ever again. Additionally, the military went through a BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure] movement where they removed a division – correction – a brigade from each division. So, there was a surplus of officers and not a lot of chances to command, which was what I was interested in doing. Had there been a war that would’ve always lasted or another conflict, then I probably would’ve never gotten out of the military. As many officers know, especially now, if you don’t really have that goal in front of you of saying, ‘I’m going to go accomplish this mission. I’m going to do this with my men.’ It involves, I hate to say this, but some sort of maybe recognition of saying, ‘This is the career path that I have to take as an officer.’ It becomes very, very tough.
For me, I wanted to go to business school. I had to make the transition into the civilian world, which is a very, very difficult transition. It’s finding a new identity. It’s finding who you are. It’s finding your passions and your purpose, which is not easy to do when you’re 24 years old and everything that you’ve known has always been the military. For me, I wanted to get educated. I thought education would be the path forward, but because of the Yellow Ribbon Program and because of West Point, I couldn’t pay for business school out of pocket. So, I thought that if I played one year in the NFL, even if I just fooled some of the coaches who are infatuated with the military, and I was able to play for one year that I’d be able to pay for business school. So, when the opportunity came up with Pittsburgh and I found out that … My goal in Pittsburgh was to just play one year and get out, then go to business school at one of the top programs and then move on with my life. But the luxury I had in Pittsburgh was that Carnegie Mellon was right there, so I was able to do both – and that was my plan.
The transition to get out of the military is incredibly difficult. [It’s] very tough for young men who love their identity to be attached to masculine sort of things, like war stories, battle stories and belonging to a group. So, when you have to find a way forward, it’s not like I had a lot of options. So, the NFL was kind of like American Idol; if I can release one hit song, then I can pay for business school and then I can maybe find something in business school that’s going to give me a new identity.”
When you were making that transition, or maybe now that you look back on that transition, have you found yourself to maybe have rediscovered your love and appreciation for the game of football and life, in general, as well, as a civilian? (Bobby Trosset)
“Absolutely. This goes along with another concept and theme in my life, and that is that football has given me absolutely everything. I came to the United States by myself when I was 17 years old. I happened to be born in the United States by accident, and it is a very deceiving miracle that I can speak English so well and not have an accent. But when I came to the United States, and I went to West Point, football was a way in for me. It was a way in for me to learn the culture. It was a way in for me to understand the different dynamics – how individualism plays such a huge part in American culture. I was shocked that there were so many individual awards for a team sport. That, for somebody who comes from Europe, is somewhat odd. And football was always something that gave to me. I think one of the biggest themes for a lot of athletes is just how much football has given to you, when you look back, and you see how much it has changed and transformed your life, and for me, it’s never been any different. Football has given me an incredible amount of opportunity; not just to get into this country and to understand how everything works, but also in terms of leadership, in terms of getting to know people from all over the United States from different socioeconomic backgrounds. There’s not that many places in life where you see that. So, I’ve always been very thankful of the game of football. I’ve always tried to play with a passion, and I’ve always tried to play it – not taking it for granted. I’ve learned, basically everything, ever since I got here in 2006, through the game of football. So, rediscovering the passion has never been something that I’ve had to go through. It’s always been very clear to me that this game, that only gets played, for the majority, in the United States, has given me a path through fully feeling American.”
Could you just talk about how you expect the game to change for a tackle like yourself, going from Pittsburgh, where it was 50-55 drop backs a game, to Baltimore, where it might only be 20-25? (Jonas Shaffer)
“I haven’t taken a single snap as a Raven yet, so it’s hard for me to tell you. But I do know, obviously, when I was in college, we played, we ran the ball most of the game, and I always felt like running the ball was my forte, and that if I ever were to play in the NFL, it would be very difficult for me, as a tackle, because I would not know how to pass protect. Pass protection was something completely foreign to me, so I tried out as a defensive end, and as a tight end. With time, I was able to learn and understand the process of becoming a student of the game and finding out everything that you can about the opponent, about tendencies, about technique, footwork, and see what works for you. So, for me, I expect the same process – the tough pains in the beginning of getting in a new stance, developing new muscle groups, seeing the game from different eyes, and hopefully, with the help of coaches and teammates, to be able to get comfortable in the offense and play the game of football like it’s supposed to be played.”
You’ve got an amazing perspective on life – thanks for sharing that. Along with what you were just talking about, QB Lamar Jackson, in particular, you’ve watched him from the sidelines and in highlights. What are your thoughts about what you see in him, as you will be a guy who will be up front? (Mark Viviano)
“There are certain players in the NFL that truly inspire you to get the best out of you, because you see how rare the talent is. I felt that when I was playing with Le’Veon Bell. Le’Veon Bell would make some plays, we’ll drop that football [to him], and you always felt energized, as an offense lineman, to continue to give your best for that player. I don’t think there’s a doubt in anyone’s mind that when you see Lamar Jackson play, you want to do everything for him, protect him and continue to see the magic that he displays on the field, because it not only makes the game of football incredibly fun for the fans and for everybody out there, but it also wins you a lot of football games, and that’s something that the franchise, obviously, has to value and protect.”
We’re talking about going from so much pass blocking to run blocking. How about psychologically? You’re going from the team that ran less than all but one team in the NFL, to the team that runs the ball more? What is the mindset of an offensive lineman when he gets to push forward? And No. 2, I’ve been asked to ask you, who will you carpool with next year? (Aditi Kinkhabwala) (laughter)
“Both good questions. The mindset, when you know that you’re with a team that runs the ball well, it involves every single room in the offense, everybody is in unison, and it’s a lot of timing involved with running the ball. If you get the timing right, if you get the nice tracks on everybody, then usually you can get to run the ball, and for an offensive lineman, it’s very easy, because you don’t have a lot of angst when the team is running the ball well. When you have to pass the ball, especially like we had to do last year, it involves an incredible amount of pressure, because you know the pass rushers can get in a rhythm. So, you’re going to start going against a player like – I don’t know, let’s think – Myles Garrett, and he’s going to get 10, 15 passes in a row to set up moves, to be able to attack every single angle of your body, try different moves. He has 50 to 60 snaps to try everything that he wants to do on you, so it becomes very stressful. But at the same time, whether you’re running the ball, whether you’re passing the ball, as an offensive lineman, you have to be selfless, you have to avoid complaining at all costs, because that’s in your nature, and it can bring the morale down, and [you] try to make a challenge out of it.
So, for us, as an offensive line, in Pittsburgh last year, it was incredibly challenging that we knew we had to go with these gameplans that involved passing the ball, potentially, the entire game and not really practice or rehearse that other part of football that relieves some of that angst. So, the mentality, when you have a balanced offense, or when you run the ball, it’s obviously better for the offensive line. I’m assuming it’s not as fun for the wide receivers, because they’re not getting all the catches. They’re making the TikToks, and they’re having fun on their social media. But for an offensive lineman, it’s definitely an awesome experience to be able to find angles to the hips of the defensive lineman, to be able to use your hands and be aggressive, take more risk on your blocks, be able to work, obviously, in tandem with players to your left and right, instead of being on an island blocking and just hoping that if the ball doesn’t get out of the hands quickly, that it’s [not] going to be a catastrophe.
I’m just wondering, was there consideration for you to play a little left tackle, knowing that T Ronnie Stanley has been injured, and you excelled at left tackle, and I know that executive vice president & general manager Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh really covet guys that can do a couple things? So, was that discussed in the talks? (Kirk McEwen)
“No. I’m assuming that if Eric [DeCosta] knows that if I’m willing to play right [tackle], that I can play left, if need be. So, in my situation, I don’t know what [offensive line] Coach [Joe] D’Alessandris has planned for me. It’ll be his decision – him and [offensive coordinator] Greg Roman, I’m assuming, and so I’m just an able body. If they want me to line up at wideout and catch some balls and take away targets from [Mark] Andrews, then I’ll do that as well, obviously.” (laughter)
I was just going to ask about your thoughts on this semi-revamped offensive line for the Ravens – yourself, T Ronnie Stanley, G Bradley Bozeman and G Kevin Zeitler. What are your thoughts on your new teammates on the line? (Shawn Stepner)
“Well, I haven’t met them in person, and we haven’t had days to … I mean, this just happened 24 hours ago. The offensive line for the Ravens, the way that they’re coached and the attitude that they have has been something that has been respected in the AFC North ever since I’ve been playing in the NFL. I know that [former Steelers offensive line and current Broncos offensive line] Coach [Mike] Munchak had a lot of admiration for the way that they ran zone schemes. So, if anything, I feel a bigger responsibility to make sure that what you’re saying, this new revamped offensive line, is something that can come to fruition.”