When Mike Tomlin said that Matt Feiler would be taking the first reps at left guard at training camp, he said that of course already knowing that the offseason work would be limited, and likely that training camp practices would be limited as well, though he did not know that there would be no preseason.
Nevertheless, I believe he said that in large part as an expression of confidence in the abilities of Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor, two of the younger offensive tackles on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 80-man roster, who will be attempting to demonstrate over the next month that they are capable of starting at right tackle.
The reality is that if they fail to do so, the Steelers will have to rely on Feiler to slide back to the right tackle spot, where he has started 25 of the last 27 games. He was held out from starting in one game while injured in 2018, though he was active in the case of an emergency. In 2019, he started one game at left guard to replace an injured Ramon Foster.
Okorafor started both of those games, but he was inactive for 15 last season, while Banner was the gameday swing tackle all season. If there was an in-game injury, he would be the one playing. Though he didn’t take a single snap at tackle, he did log over 200 as an extra lineman. This year, he’s looking to drop the ‘eligible’ from the tackle-eligible.
“I want to start. That is a dream of mine now”, he told Teresa Varley for the team’s website. “As a person, a human being, you have to be able to evaluate yourself in your career, set goals, set attainable goals, and keep working when you reach goals. I did that first step, now I am setting new goals”.
Originally drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts, Banner—the biological son of Cortez Kennedy—didn’t even make the 53-man roster, but he ended up spending time with the Cleveland Browns that year.
The following offseason, he logged time on the Carolina Panthers’ roster before being waived in the Summer. The Steelers signed him during the 2018 training camp when they needed another tackle. He ended up making the 53-man roster, spending the season as an inactive.
Last year, he competed, along with Feiler, Okorafor, and former Steelers Jerald Hawkins, for the right tackle job vacated by Marcus Gilbert. He lost to Feiler, who started 10 games the prior season, but ended up winning the gameday backup and tackle-eligible role.
It was just fun to be on the field”, he admitted of his work as the extra lineman. “Having an impact for a team, it satisfied my sense of hunger to get on the field and it made me hungrier to want more”. But now it’s time for more. Especially in a contract year.