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2019 South Side Questions: Why Start Okorafor Over Banner?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the regular season, in which they entered with big aspirations, in spite of a tumultuous start to the offseason. Significant players were lost via trade and free agency, players who have helped shape the course of the franchise in recent years. We even now sit here without Ben Roethlisberger after just two games.

The team made some bold moves this offseason and in some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago. That would especially be the case at wide receiver and inside linebacker, where they have new starters. And quarterback was suddenly added to that list.

How will the season progress without Roethlisberger, behind Mason Rudolph? How will the young players advance into their expected roles? Will the new coaches be up to the task? Who is looking good in games? Who is sitting out due to injury?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Why start Chukwuma Okorafor at right tackle and not Zach Banner?

If practice reports are to be believed, then the Steelers intend to play musical chairs along the offensive line this week in order to replace starting left guard Ramon Foster. Rather than simply starting B.J. Finney in his place, which he has done in each of the past four years, they are going in another direction.

They are reportedly opting to move right tackle Matt Feiler to left guard, and will start second-year Chukwuma Okorafor at right tackle. Okorafor has been a healthy scratch for most of the season, with Zach Banner dressing over him at swing tackle.

But last season, while Marcus Gilbert was still healthy, Okorafor dressed as the gameday swing tackle, yet it was Feiler who was asked to start once Gilbert was injured. And so it seems, at least by appearances, that Okorafor is now the second option at tackle if there is an injury.

Or is it simply because the Steelers don’t want to lose the ability to use Banner as the tackle-eligible, a role in which he has done well so far this year? By my count, he logged over 90 snaps during the first half of the season, though some of that was in the victory formation.

The limitations at the tight end position, not trusting Zach Gentry to play, could be a factor in this as well. Banner is essentially the number three tight end behind Vance McDonald (over 300 snaps) and Nick Vannett (over 150 snaps in five games).

Could this be preparation for the future? Are the Steelers anticipating losing Finney in free agency and ultimately identifying Feiler as their next starting left guard? Even so, that wouldn’t explain going with Okorafor over Banner, though perhaps it’s part of the corresponding move to see who is the better option at right tackle.

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