Is there anybody on the Pittsburgh Steelers who saw more growth in 2019 without starting a game than Zach Banner? Though he played fairly extensively as a tackle-eligible tight end, he has yet to play an NFL snap as a tackle since joining the Steelers two seasons ago.
Not only did he play well in his given task, he became a fan favorite, not just because of his performance—and his size—but because of his personality, which both the crowd and his teammates got the opportunity to see more of this past season, now ‘vetted’ into the locker room and its culture after remaining largely quiet as a weekly inactive in 2018.
Banner talked to Mike Prisuta about his experiences at the end of the season, the Steelers being dealt an unfortunate early exit, missing the postseason for the second consecutive year. While the team failed to live up to its own expectations on the season, he understands that growth can be measured in other ways.
“Through the thick and thin of things, whether things go as good as you want them to or as bad as you didn’t expect, you still grow, you still bond,”, he said. “Some of the relationships that I’ve built with guys over this year can last forever. That’s kind of the bigger picture about this football thing. Even though it wasn’t the season that we wanted there were still some good things in getting better, personally and seeing other guys and as a team”.
It’s hard to identify anything on the offensive side of the ball that got better, short of perhaps the number three wide receiver position, and the tackle-eligible role. Those are about the only areas that improved. I supposed backup quarterback would be there as well.
Defensively, however, there was significant growth, and perhaps the most reason for optimism about on-field success in 2020. Ben Roethlisberger hopefully returning should lend a big helping hand to the offense, however.
Still, it was another sense of growth that Banner focused on, both each player individually and in the ways in which the locker room bonds together, the relationships formed, which does have a translation onto the field.
“I think that’s what you carry moving forward. I think that’s what carries you into the offseason, to work, to grind”, he said. “The unfortunate thing about the NFL is that statistically, it’s impossible to have the same guys next year. That sucks, but with the guys that are coming back it’s something you look forward to because you all went through that together”.
Even though they ended up 8-8 and without a postseason berth, the 2019 season was certainly one of the most interesting rides the Steelers have taken us on in recent years. What will that mean for 2020? We can only wait to find out.