If the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing a team who was starting two new offensive linemen because of injuries, I think you have a pretty good idea about what Keith Butler and the defense would be doing. They would relentlessly attack that side of the defense and try to do everything they can to expose the new faces.
The Denver Broncos tried that a bit, according to Chukwuma Okorafor, who took over the starting right tackle job after Zach Banner went down with a knee injury on Sunday, but they weren’t nearly as successful as I’m sure they would have liked, as Ben Roethlisberger was kept relatively clean for much of the day.
“I feel like it was a little bit much because of having two new guys playing, so I think they wanted to do a bunch of twists”, he told reporters yesterday. In addition to himself, rookie fourth-round pick Kevin Dotson was also starting, the first of his career, after Stefen Wisniewski—already starting due to an injury for David DeCastro—went down.
Okorafor is in his third season, and he does have two prior starts in his career, most recently last season against the Los Angeles Rams when the Steelers tried to reconfigure their line, moving Matt Feiler to left guard, where he is now starting.
The former competed with Banner for the right to start at right tackle, so it’s not as though he is in a role in which he wasn’t striving for already. I’m sure his intention is to start every game for the rest of his career from this point forward, whether that remains at right tackle or he moves to the left side.
Still, he believes there are still some nerves no matter how long you’re in the league—whether you’re Dotson or Maurkice Pouncey. “I feel like if it’s a rookie or if it’s someone who’s been in the league 10-11 years, there’s always that little kind of nerves that you’re out there. But I feel like after the first play or two, it kind of just went away”, he said.
His first start of the 2020 season went relatively well, though there were certainly some things that he can continue to work on, which would be expected. Okorafor is under contract through the 2021 season, so in theory, he has 30 more games to develop as a starter before he would ever hit unrestricted free agency.
And experience tends to be the best teacher you can have. Trying and failing is a good way to learn how to do it right the next time in many cases, and that applies to football as well. There will be bumps in the road going forward, but these young men should only get better with time the more they play.