The Pittsburgh Steelers are now training camp, following the most unique offseason in the NFL since at least World War II. While it didn’t involve a player lockout, teams still did not have physical access to their players, though they were at least able to meet with them virtually.
Even training camp will look much different from the norm, and a big part of that will be the fact that there will be no games along the way to prepare for. There will be no preseason played in 2020, so the first time the Steelers take the field in 2020 will be for the season opener against the New York Giants.
Before we get there, however, there are a number of issues that are outstanding on this team, and this year’s edition of training camp will not provide the level of thoroughness that teams are normally used to in trying to answer those questions.
Questions like, what is the starting offensive line going to look like? Will it include Zach Banner or Chukwuma Okorafor? Who will be the primary nose tackle? How will Ben Roethlisberger look—and the other quarterbacks as well? Now, we even have questions about whether or not players will be in quarantine.
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Is 2020 the final season for above-the-line offensive line play?
David DeCastro spoke to reporters yesterday, and his answers to some questions had almost an elegiac ring to it when speaking about the offensive line and its future. The Steelers have had among the most stable offensive line groups in the league in terms of both personnel and performance, but for multiple reasons, that age of stability feels like it’s nearing its end.
The most immediate concern is that the team will have three linemen—at least two of whom will be starters in 2020, perhaps all three—hitting the open market next year, those being Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, and Zach Banner. It might be a challenge for the team to keep even one of them if they’re all starters. Keeping two would be extremely difficult. Trying to retain all of them is nigh impossible.
Meanwhile, Father Time is gaining steam. Even DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey are the old veterans now. Villanueva will be 32. Feiler and Banner still have some years in their 20s, if they are even with the team in 2021.
The younger linemen are yet to prove themselves, like Chukwuma Okorafor and rookie Kevin Dotson, while veteran reserve Stefen Wisniewski is already 31 and may not even start. So it’s fair to question: will this season be the last in which we can count on above-the-line offensive line play for the Steelers?