It’s a good thing for the Pittsburgh Steelers that they don’t have a lot of training camp battles to settle this year, because frankly, there might not be a lot of time to settle them. And the battles that they do have largely consist of veterans shifting into new roles or positions in the pecking order.
Arguably the biggest battle of consequence is at right tackle, which, in my estimation, comes down to whether or not the two young tackles at the position can demonstrate that they are worthy of being trusted that they can enter the starting lineup. Because if not, Matt Feiler stays there and free agent Stefen Wisniewski plays left guard.
The two young contenders are Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor. The latter was a rookie third-round pick in 2018 and spent that year as a the swing tackle, playing the tackle-eligible role and even starting one game. But Banner was the swing tackle and tackle-eligible last season (even making it ‘famous’), though when a start was needed, Okorafor got that as well.
The momentum in many people’s minds appears to be in Banner’s camp. At least one beat writer, however, gives the slight advantage to the younger player. It is worth noting that Banner didn’t do much pass protection while playing as an eligible.
Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette talked about the right tackle battle a couple of times during a recent chat. He was first asked for his opinion about who would win. “My guess is Okorafor if he is ready”, he said. “If not, I can see them moving Feiler back to RT and then inserting Wisniewski at LG”.
That’s an interesting take, and not exactly an optimistic one in Banner’s case. Later, when asked about Banner specifically, he said that “he has an opportunity this summer to earn a starting job. He will wage a battle with Chuks Okorafor for the right tackle job in camp. At least that’s the way it will start. I think Okorafor has the edge, but Banner is much improved and will have a chance”.
As I’ve contended a number of times, the Steelers have to be hoping, for multiple reasons, that one of Okorafor or Banner is starting at right tackle this season. If neither starts there, it almost surely means that both of them struggled too much to be trusted.
It also bodes well for the future of the offensive line, considering that age is creeping up on the group and they’re going to have to start replenishing their ranks soon. There’s a fair chance Alejandro Villanueva leaves in free agency next year, for example. it would be a lot simpler if Banner and Okorafor could both settle into starting roles by 2021.