The Pittsburgh Steelers have been steadily getting rookie tackle Chukwuma Okorafor some playing time in almost every game this season, used in the tackle-eligible role that has become a training ground for young linemen over the past seven years.
He has seen snaps on offense in all but one game so far this year, with Sunday’s being the second in which he has played double-digit snaps. After spending 17 snaps on the field in an overtime game in the season opener while Vance McDonald was missing, his 11 snaps this past game are the second-most he has had, and he now has 55 snaps on the season, on pace about 125, which is a good workload for him.
It could have been more if the Steelers decided to entrust him with the opportunity of starting at right tackle in the two games that Marcus Gilbert has missed, but they chose to go with Matt Feiler over him, which probably says at least as much or more about Feiler.
Okorafor’s work on Sunday was a bit of a mixed bag, truth be told, but was solid overall. He actually technically started the game and was on the field for the first three snaps on the first drive. That included this third and two James Conner run for three yards that was negated by penalty. In truth, Conner deserved most of the credit for the ‘success’ of this lost play.
Although this run picked up just three yards late in the first quarter, coming out of a 22 personnel look, it was a great individual block by Okorafor, who was able to completely wall off Emmanuel Ogbah from the play.
Most of the rookie’s work has understandably come on running plays, but he has gotten some snaps in pass protection. His three this Sunday were the most so far in any one game, and five of his seven snaps in pass protection have come over the past two. Continuing a theme from the previously game, the Steelers threw from heavy, and they ended up with four blockers against two rushers on the left side.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, again out of the 22 look, we have a short-yardage conversion that actually stands. And again in this case, Okorafor doesn’t come out looking good. He was asked to downblock, a difficult assignment, but his footwork was muddled even before he tripped over Feiler’s foot
All said, however, I remain confident in the rookie’s performance and progress. He has played better than any rookie lineman since Gilbert in 2011.