The Pittsburgh Steelers knew that they were going to be jumbling the offensive line heading into the season this year following the retirement of Ramon Foster, which set in motion the consideration of moving Matt Feiler inside to allow Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor to compete for the right tackle spot.
They couldn’t have foreseen the shifts that they would have to make from training camp to the opener, and then from the first game to the second. With David DeCastro out, Stefen Wisniewski started at right guard, with Feiler at left guard, and Banner at right tackle.
It’s looking like both DeCastro and Wisniewski will be out for Sunday, putting Kevin Dotson in the starting lineup. And with Banner on injured reserve, Okorafor will be the new starting right tackle. Seven different starting offensive linemen within two games. And as soon as DeCastro comes back, that’ll make it eight.
But they’re not particularly worried necessarily about the performance level at right tackle. While Banner did win the job over Okorafor, the coaching staff consistently maintained that it was a close competition and that both men were capable of doing the job, which offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner reiterated today.
“I’m saddened for the injury. It was tough, and it was tough for Zach”, he said, via transcript, “because I just know how hard he worked. But that was really a competitive competition that went down to the end, and whoever we play is going to be, and we respect and know that he will do a great job for us. Chuks has played in this game before against this team”.
Okorafor actually made his first start as a rookie in Denver against the Broncos, and while he did allow a sack by Von Miller (who is out for the season), he generally acquitted himself well. The Steelers provided him with a lot of cover that game, but less so last year when he started against the Los Angeles Rams.
Presumably, he is now in line to start for the rest of the season, and will have the opportunity to lock down a starting job permanently provided that he plays at a high level. You don’t ever want to have the loser of a competition emerge the starter due to injury, but he has the ability to grow with playing time.
Okorafor was introduced to the sport of football at around 2010 when his family emigrated to the United States. He tried out for a team a year later in high school—initially as a kicker. Ended up being a three-year starter at both left and right tackle for Western Michigan and declared as a true junior, drafted by the Steelers in round three in 2018.
In other words, he’s still young and relatively new to the game. He turned 23 last month. He’s just entering his third NFL season and has had two different position coaches. His story is far from written. In fact, it’s just ready to get interesting.