Since the start of the 2019 regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost Fred Johnson and Patrick Morris off waivers along the offensive line. This offseason, Ramon Foster retired, and B.J. Finney left in free agency. Following the first game of the 2020 season, they may have now lost starting right tackle Zach Banner and top interior reserve Stefen Wisniewski to season-ending injuries.
While we are awaiting official confirmation as to the severity of these injuries, Banner is believed to have suffered an ACL injury, and potentially a torn ACL. As for Wisniewski, head coach Mike Tomlin described it after the game as a pec injury.
The most frustrating part of these injuries is that that occurred successively on what were essentially the final two meaningful offensive snaps of the night. Wisniewski left one snap before Banner did, on the latter of which was completed Ben Roethlisberger’s third touchdown pass of the night, the second to JuJu Smith-Schuster, which all but sealed the game. The team’s final possession was simply running out the clock with under two minutes to play.
It’s a virtual certainty that both of them at least miss some time, even if one or neither proves to be season-ending. Even in the short term, this greatly stresses the Steelers’ offensive line depth and reserves, who have already been dealing with a minor injury suffered by David DeCastro, who sat out the opener but should be able to return within the next week or two.
While the left side of the line is preserved, from Alejandro Villanueva at left tackle to Maurkice Pouncey at center, the rest of the group is in a jumble. Needless to say, Chukwuma Okorafor would step in at right tackle, who lost the training camp competition to Banner to start there in the first place.
Provided that DeCastro continues to miss time, and Wisniewski is out for a period of time, this puts Kevin Dotson not just on the field, but in the starting lineup, for at least a game or two. The rookie fourth-round pick already missed time and avoided a major injury during training camp, but he didn’t look out of place in the few snaps that he got last night.
But what do they do if Banner and Wisniewski are lost for the season? That would leave just J.C. Hassenauer and Dotson as depth, both of whom are interior players. Feiler would then presumably become the backup tackle and would have to be replaced at left guard in the event of an injury.
The Steelers do have three offensive linemen on the practice squad, including Derwin Gray, a 2019 seventh-round pick, who is capable of playing both guard and tackle. I would expect him to be called up to the 53-man roster as soon as a move is made for one of the other two.
Tackles Anthony Coyle and Jarron Jones, both first-year players who were signed after participating in the XFL, are also on the practice squad. Christian DiLauro, who was on the practice squad last year, is available as a street free agent, as is John Keenoy, an interior player who was also signed after participating in the XFL.