When Mike Munchak introduced Chukwuma Okorafor after April’s draft, he made one thing very clear: Okorafor is a work in progress. But after Jerald Hawkins seemingly season-ending injury, those plans might need to change.
The Steelers are high on Matt Feiler but it’s hard to see him being the answer at every position along the line, especially left tackle. As it the mantra of the team, it’s next-man-up.
Chukwuma Okorafor, you’re the next man up. And already, some Steelers are embracing that fact.
“I’m sure whoever has to step up will step up,” Ramon Foster told reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “But you got guys like Matt and Finney can play on the inside. And you have the young guy Chuks who at any other school, had he played at Clemson, he would’ve been first round. So I’m excited about the young guy.”
The biggest problem Okorafor faces is a lack of time. Limited time playing football, he just finished up his sixth season after being born in Africa and playing soccer. And now, somewhat limited time to get ready to be the guy should there be an injury, only a couple months before the season begins.
On the positive side, Okorafor has legitimate starting left-tackle tools. The size, the length, feet, and enough technique to become a starter someday. And he has as good of a coaching staff as you can ask for. Mike Munchak, who turns water into wine, and Shaun Sarrett, his right-hand man who could be an offensive line coach in plenty of other cities.
While Okorafor is raw, offensive line is the one position above the rest where players are able to make an impact right away. “Less” of a learning curve, I guess you could say, though the college game (and lack of great teachers) has made it tougher for players to adjust.
The same thing happened with Hawkins his rookie year. Labeled as raw and unproven out of LSU, he had a fantastic training camp before going down with a shoulder injury. But watching him in Latrobe, you would’ve guessed he was an experienced, seasoned player.
There’s no “box” Okorafor has to be in that says he needs to take baby steps or effectively sit out this year. It’ll be up to Munchak to mold him and Okorafor to apply those teachings. Because odds are, at some point this season, he’s going to be in the lineup.