While Ramon Foster was a full participant in practice yesterday, it is not without absolute certainty that he will be cleared from the concussion protocol to suit up and play tomorrow night against the Cleveland Browns. Things appear to be tracking that way—we’ll know today, perhaps even by the time this article actually runs—but should that not be the case, there is still a decision to be made about how to fill his spot.
On Sunday, the Steelers moved Matt Feiler from right tackle to left guard and played Chukwuma Okorafor at right tackle. He opted for Okorafor, who had not played a snap during the season up to that point, over Zach Banner, who has been active in the tackle-eligible role. Mike Tomlin talked about that decision during his Monday press conference.
“Banner had been occupying a role and doing a really solid job at that, so why disrupt that”, Tomlin said. “Chuks is fully capable, and I think that’s the thing that you point to, and a thing that we always repeat to our guys, that is that we’re going to need every man in that room, and every man is capable, so we’re going to make decisions week in and week out that highlight that and challenge that in certain ways”.
Okorafor was drafted in the third round by the Steelers last season, and had dressed as the gameday reserve prior to Marcus Gilbert’s injury, but the starting job was given to Feiler instead afterward. Okorafor remained the swing tackle for Feiler and served in the eligible role.
“Chuks’ usage and expansion of roles in terms of being an inactive type and going to a guy that starts at right tackle is just an example of that” challenging of players, Tomin said. “But that’s nothing new. He did that a year ago, I think at Denver against Von Miller and company. He’s a guy that doesn’t fear those matchups, a guy that’s got some talent, a guy that’s evolving as a player, and opportunities like that help that evolution”.
Should the Steelers need to replace Feiler at right guard for one reason or another during the remainder of the season, it will be interesting to see how they approach the situation. Okorafor did have two penalties and gave up a big sack during his performance, so it’s not as though he excelled during his playing time.
Still, they are eying the future, and they know that either Okorafor or Banner may soon have to be in the starting lineup depending upon how free agency plays out over the next few years. They want to see what the candidates can do in-game.