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: Where are the offensive linemen behind the starters playing?
One of the many frustrating things about the fact that we are not able to be in training camp this year—either physically or, in any meaningful way, virtually—is the fact that we don’t have the opportunity to see who is playing where, and when. Informally assembling depth charts is usually a pretty good barometer about how a player is being viewed. It’s crystalized more in preseason play—but that’s right, we don’t have that this year, either.
This might be most significant along the offensive line, a position at which, behind the top seven, arguably eight players, there is a lot of uncertainty. The known starters at Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, Maurkice Pouncey, and David DeCastro. Either Zach Banner or Chukwuma Okorafor will seemingly start at right tackle, the other being the swing tackle, and Stefen Wisniewski being the swing interior reserve. Rookie Kevin Dotson is in-line to be the eighth lineman, but he is currently sidelined, so that could change things.
What about J.C. Hassenauer? What about Derwin Gray? These are two guys who spent a lot of time with the team last year, and we have nearly no knowledge of their development, Christian DiLauro having also been on the practice squad last year. John Keenoy, Jarron Jones, Anthony Coyle, more linemen we have virtually no information on.
It would be nice, at the very least, if we could get some details about, for example, where Gray is playing. Drafted coming out of college as a tackle, he played guard exclusively last year, but should be capable of expanding his repertoire to be a four-position player. Has he been given that opportunity? Nobody is reporting that information.