The most significant ‘battle’ that the Pittsburgh Steelers have in training camp this year is at right tackle. At this point, is seems evident that there will be a new starter this year, the team having determined that it is comfortable with the prospect of one of Chukwuma Okorafor or Zach Banner playing there, with the other serving as the reserve.
The team insulated itself against risk by signing Stefen Wisniewski in free agency as a veteran who could start at left guard if Matt Feiler had to move back to right tackle, but based on the early results and comments from coaches so far, it appears to be full-steam-ahead with the current plan.
This is the second time in as many years that there has been an open competition for the right tackle spot after the team traded Marcus Gilbert, involving Feiler, Okorafor, Banner, and the former Steeler, Jerald Hawkins, whom the team would end up trading. Feiler won, Banner was the swing tackle, but Okorafor started when there was a need.
With Ramon Foster retiring, Mike Tomlin was most comfortable moving Feiler there and banking on the abilities of his two young tackles. Without a preseason to really get a feel for the players’ progress, however, how will he weigh out the competition is going?
“It will be thoughtful, but it will be based on the drills of the day and things of that nature”, Tomlin said about how he would proceed in doling out reps between Banner and Okorafor as the two try to determine who will be the starter. “It will be fair, but I wouldn’t necessarily rep count”.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the Steelers will be giving the fans many opportunities at all to actually view any meaningful training camp reps this year, and of course our Alex Kozora will not be able to log them in-person, so the competition is probably going to remain largely mysterious to the outside until the regular season begins, or at least until we start getting comments from coaches about it.
Okorafor is a third-year player the Steelers originally drafted in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He was the swing tackle as a rookie, and started one game due to injury, in addition to serving as the swing tackle. Last season, however, he was inactive for 15 games, playing only in the one game that he started.
Zach Banner was originally drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the fourth round in 2017. He did not make their 53-man roster, later finding work with the Cleveland Browns, and then the Carolina Panthers in the 2018 offseason. He eventually found himself in the Steelers’ training camp that Summer and made the roster, spending his first season inactive. Last year, he was the swing tackle and logged over 200 snaps as an extra lineman.