Affable. Gregarious. Tackle-eligible. NFL starter?
That is the path that fourth-year offensive tackle Zach Banner is hoping to take as he enters year three with the Pittsburgh Steelers graduating from weekly inactive in 2018 to backup and tackle-eligible last season, logging over 200 snaps.
Fresh off of signing a new one-year, $1.75 million contract, there is a realistic chance that Banner does now get the opportunity to start following the retirement of Ramon Foster and the departure of B.J. Finney in free agency.
With both of the Steelers’ top two left guards gone, that opens the door for the team to move right tackle Matt Feiler, who is eminently guard-capable, inside, where he started against Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams last season. That would leave the right tackle position open for competition between Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor, the latter of whom started there when Feiler moved inside.
“My goal going into this year is to be a starter in the National Football League”, he told Missi Matthews in an interview for the team’s website recently. “Why not? Everybody else didn’t think I was gonna play at all. There was a lot of people saying I was a third-string offensive lineman going into this season”.
Originally a fourth-round pick by the Indianapolis Colts in 2017, he did not even make their team initially, though he would spend time with the Cleveland Browns that year. Bouncing around until he was added by the Steelers in training camp in 2018, he has seen a steady progression over the past two years.
Banner said that he is driven by “my own personal attitude about life. Not settling. Not being happy where I am. So many different achievements in the past were kind of like, ‘okay, this is the base, let’s start over’. Another achievement: that’s the base. Start over. And keep going for more goals”.
The next goal on deck is to graduate from being an eligible receiver as an extra lineman to being one of the five who are expected to log 1000-plus snaps a season. This was the vision that Mike Tomlin had for him already back in 2018. This could be the season that it comes into focus.
Asked what he feels he needs to do to achieve his goals this offseason, he prioritized certain personal habits. “Don’t lose focus. My mom always tells me I’m a routine kind of guy. I’ve had success in the past because I’ve found a routine and I’ve stuck with it. Why lose the routine? Why settle? Always strive for more”.
Banner will not turn 27 years old until Christmas. Should he enter the starting lineup, he will join Feiler (who turns 28 in July) as the only starting linemen under the age of 30, with David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, and Alejandro Villanueva all on the wrong side of that dividing line.