There was a time not too long ago as the college football offenses are changing, and thus changing NFL offenses, during which it was becoming very difficult to find top-end offensive line talent. Too many players were stuck between philosophies, but as the NFL more and more adapts to the talent now coming out, the balance is shifting once again.
This is good news for the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team aware that its three most prominent offensive linemen—and potentially four of its five starters this year—are already on the wrong side of 30. That makes it all the more imperative that they find out this year if they have some starters among their young players.
This will be highlighted by the battle at right tackle, which, assuming that Matt Feiler ends up playing at left guard, will be between Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor. The latter was a third-round pick by the team in 2018, the former only joining the Steelers late in training camp that same year as a former fourth-round pick who had already bounced around a few teams.
But he’s been a solid presence in Pittsburgh now for the past two years, and the two of them are being given the opportunity to show the coaching staff that they can lock down the right tackle position. One of them will be starting, most likely, if they can prove that, with the other being the swing tackle and tackle-eligible.
“Fortunately, we don’t have to play next to each other”, Banner told his hosts On The PM Team on The Fan yesterday. “It’s one of those type of things where, that’s my boy, and vice versa. At the end of the day, we go and we practice and we support each other. You have to do that, because the decision really isn’t so much about whether or not we’re making the roster anymore”.
While he said that at some level it was “fighting over a title”, because both will make the roster and play, he added, “don’t get me wrong, we both have pride. We both want it. But at the end of the day, that’s my boy, and it’s the same with him.
Over the past two seasons, Feiler has been the primary starting right tackle, making 25 starts there during that time, including 15 last season. Marcus Gilbert had previously been the primary right tackle since he was drafted in 2011 before injuries caught up with him.
Okorafor is the first lineman the Steelers have drafted in the first three rounds since Mike Adams in the second round in 2012, the closest they had come since then being Jerald Hawkins in the fourth round in 2016. They lucked into Banner when he was a street free agent and they needed another tackle in camp. Now, they hope, perhaps both of them will show that they are starter-capable linemen this Summer.