We already knew back in March that the Pittsburgh Steelers were going to have a different offensive line than the year before, after Ramon Foster retired. With B.J. Finney leaving, we also knew we could see multiple changes. David DeCastro sitting out the opener also meant we knew the line that started the season would likely not be the one to end it, either.
But who knew it would be so different just from Week One to Week Two? And that comes with Zach Banner going down for the season with what is believed to be a torn ACL, though this has not been officially announced.
The injury happened late in the team’s victory over the New York Giants, on Ben Roethlisberger’s third and final touchdown pass that more or less sealed the game. As he dropped into pass protection, Banner suddenly went down to his knees.
“Injuries always concern you, especially when it is the guys who are protecting you. I felt absolutely horrible for Zach”, Roethlisberger told reporters about Banner’s injury earlier today. “He busted his butt to get out here this year and to be in great shape to be our starter. He earned that job. It wasn’t given to him. He earned it. The first game, I just felt bad. We texted a little bit last night. I just told him I was thinking about him and I was praying for him and to keep his head up. His story is not done yet”.
Roethlisberger has always had close relationships with his offensive linemen—often in the past being seen as giving them preferential treatment over others—because they are responsible for protecting him. Even in training camp, he immediately came to the aid of rookie Kevin Dotson after going down with a knee injury.
And Dotson was in there protecting him for the final handful of snaps of Monday’s game after Stefen Wisniewski, who was starting for DeCastro, himself went down with an injury, though one that appears to be less significant.
Banner was drafted in the fourth round in 2017 by the Indianapolis Colts. After making the initial 53-man roster, he was waived when they claimed five players, but he was told that he would be re-signed to the practice squad and brought back up when he gets his weight under control.
Four teams ended up claiming him off waivers, including the Cleveland Browns with the top waiver priority. He spent his rookie year there before being waived in March—then claimed by the Carolina Panthers, and waived again at the end of May.
He went unclaimed this time, and was on the street until the Steelers signed him on August 12. He impressed enough to be carried as the ninth lineman in 2018. After earning the swing tackle and tackle-eligible roles a year later, he was given the opportunity to compete for the starting job this Summer.
It was a battle that he won, and he made his first career start on Monday. He bet on himself this year and won, only to see his body let him down. But he’ll be back up sooner than you think, and more motivated than ever.