There are plenty of instances of players taking time to develop into starters a few years into their career in the NFL. After all, starting is just as much about opportunity as it is talent. Now there is an opportunity in front of Zach Banner to start, and he’s taking that deadly seriously.
In fact, it sometimes seems like the only thing he does take seriously. Whenever he’s talking about his future in the NFL, he sounds and speaks differently. He’s determined, driven. There is no joking along the way in the pursuit of his goal.
“What we’re talking about is still a dream in front of us, and it still has to be earned”, he said on The Fan yesterday. “I just really, really, really want people to understand, there really is no mercy when it comes to this type of stuff, because I’ve wanted this for so long, and it’s right here”.
Originally a fourth-round pick with the Indianapolis Colts in 2017, he failed to make their initial 53-man roster that year. He would be scooped up and play for the Cleveland Browns that year as a rookie, but he was released the next offseason. He spent a brief period of time with the Carolina Panthers, but he was on the street available for the Pittsburgh Steelers to sign him late in training camp in 2018.
During his first year in Pittsburgh, Banner has talked about, there was a time that Mike Tomlin came up to him and said to him something to the effect of, what do you need out of me to help you turn yourself into a franchise left tackle? That stuck with him, and he continues to be driven by his coach’s words.
“Coach T at the end of the year told me, ‘last year I asked you to possibly turn yourself into a swing tackle and be ready to play this year, and you did that’”, he recalled. “’And you did it at a high level. You have a complete flip of an offseason like that again, and at next year’s offseason meeting I want to talk about how you just started your first 16 starts. But you’ve got to earn it’”.
“Just to see that in my coach’s face, for him to look at me and say that, to say, ‘go earn that’. I don’t mean this in no cocky way or anything, but I wasn’t surprised by him trusting me to keep having a good offseason, and he’s checked in with me, he’s had the strength coach check in with me”, he added.
This offseason, with Ramon Foster’s retirement, there is a good chance that right tackle Matt Feiler moves inside to left guard. The biggest determining factor may will be whether or not a guy like Banner can earn the trust of the coaching staff enough to convince them that he can start 16 games there.