In Pittsburgh, the most popular man may still be the backup quarterback. Fans were certainly quacking over Devlin Hodges early last night. The second most popular man is from an unlikely source. But Steelers’ Nation has embraced Zach Banner.
Earlier, we wrote how cheers grew increasingly louder the 26 times Banner reported in eligible Monday night against the Miami Dolphins. Hilarious as that is, for Mike Tomlin, he’s only concerned about what Banner does once the ball is snapped. So far, so good.
“He’s a detailed guy and he’s working and he’s taken advantage of an opportunity to get planned experience,” Tomlin said at his Tuesday press conference.
Tomlin first noted Banner’s conditioning and overall readiness as being the driving reason behind him getting the opportunity to play.
“It has started first with his level of conditioning. This guy has done a really awesome job in the year or so that he’s been here from an overall conditioning standpoint. That’s the catalyst for all of this.”
Banner struggled with his weight at the onset of his NFL career, causing the former 4th round pick to flame out in Indianapolis and nearly out of the league altogether. Once weighing 420 pounds, he’s down to 340, still making him the biggest dude on the field, but a manageable weight that allowed him to stick to Pittsburgh’s roster.
The Steelers ran for 158 yards in the win, their best output of the season.
He’s now played 79 snaps in 2019, all of them coming as the 6th offensive linemen. With the PA announcer calling out “#72 has reported eligible” each time he checks in, fans are rooting for the Steelers to actually throw to him. Tomlin is less enthused about the idea.
“Let’s not get carried away.”
Pittsburgh has always done well to find and develop that 6th offensive linemen. Kelvin Beachum, Chris Hubbard, even Alejandro Villanueva got work there early in their careers before moving into a full-time role. Banner doesn’t have a clear path into an every down role but like Hubbard, it would take just one injury for him to become the starting RT. Banner’s put in the work to have that chance when a little more than a year ago, it was fair to question if his NFL career was over.
Make no mistake though. He’s still having fun out there. Part of the cult hero status he’s reached is thanks to what he does in the victory formation, “blocking” on almost every snap. He even joked about not getting the chance to do it again last night.
If the Steelers keep running the way they did last night, he’ll have plenty more chances to get on the field for game-winning kneeldowns. That’ll begin this Sunday, when the Colts, the team who drafted and then quickly cut him, come to town.