2020 Training Camp Questions: How Long A Leash Will Zach Banner Have As Starter?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the regular season, 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 looked much different from the norm, and a big part of that was the fact that there will be no games along the way to prepare for. Their first football game of the year was to be the opener against the New York Giants.

As the season progresses, however, there will be a number of questions that arise on a daily basis, and we will do our best to try to raise attention to them as they come along, in an effort to both point them out and to create discussion

Questions like, how will the players who are in new positions this year going to perform? Will the rookies be able to contribute significantly? 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: How long of a leash will Zach Banner have at right tackle?

On Wednesday, head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed that Zach Banner would be the Steelers’ right tackle, but he didn’t really elaborate at all. He didn’t say for week one. He didn’t say for now. Of course, that’s not normally something he would say.

But he has consistently claimed that the toughest thing about the decision has been that both Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor were proving to be capable of the job. So if Banner struggles, say, for two or three games, not necessarily at the start of the year, does he get pulled?

After all, the Steelers would like to see both Banner and Okorafor show themselves to be starting-caliber offensive linemen—the fact that Alejandro Villanueva will be a free agent after this season notwithstanding. You can never have too many talented offensive linemen.

The team was in a somewhat similar position back in 2013 in the post-Max Starks era, with Mike Adams and Kelvin Beachum heading into year two and Marcus Gilbert entering his third season, after missing most of year two due to injury.

All three of them split starts at right tackle, with Adams moving to left tackle in 2013 to start the year. They liked Beachum enough that they were rotating him on both sides. He even played center in week one after Pouncey was injured, and guard week four.

After a four-game losing streak, however, they demoted Adams, plugged in Beachum at left tackle, and he remained there until he tore his ACL two years later. Banner and Okorafor are relatively young players in a similar point in their careers. It’s not obvious that one is better than the other. It doesn’t sound like one blew the doors off the other during training camp. So it’s very conceivable that we could see the decision made changed at some point over the course of the season.

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