There was a time earlier in his life that new Pittsburgh Steelers starting right tackle Zach Banner was a two-sport athlete. A hip injury that required surgery threw him off-track, he told reporters on Thursday, and led him down a path that saw him lose focus, and gain weight, and put his professional career in jeopardy.
If affected him during his rookie season with the Indianapolis Colts, and he told reporters about what Colts general manager Chris Ballard said when he told him he was being waived a day after making the initial 53-man roster as a rookie fourth-round pick in 2017.
“Shoutout to Chris Ballard, my first GM, and it’s non-malicious. I really mean this”, he said. “He reached out to my uncle when he cut me, and he said—and he told this to my face—I’m not happy with your weight. It’s the only fine I’ve ever had when I reported 10 pounds over, $6000 fine. I’ve never been fined ever since then. You kind of learn from that when they hit your pockets”.
“But he told my uncle, ‘I don’t think anybody needs right tackles right now, and I’m gonna put him on waivers, and I expect him to be on my practice squad on Tuesday, and then when he gets his weight right, he’ll be brought back up, and he can help us in the future’”.
Banner was waived with a group of four other players when the Colts claimed five players in total off waivers, including another offensive lineman, but this information is new. We didn’t know that he was going to be re-signed to the practice squad, though that’s far from out of the ordinary. We didn’t know they planned to bring him back up. We didn’t know that his weight was a factor in his release.
“Four teams claimed me”, he said, another revelation, and one wonders if the Steelers were one of those teams. “The roll of the dice ended up putting me in another town in the AFC North by Tuesday. From then, a lot of people would probably think, ‘screw that guy. Whatever. I can’t stand him. I can’t believe he cut me’. All in all, if he was here right now, I would say ‘thank you’, because the harsh reality”, he said, put him back on the course that he’s one today.
The AFC North team he landed with was the Cleveland Browns, and he remained there all throughout 2017, dressing for eight games and playing a very little bit. They waived him in March, claimed by the Carolina Panthers, who waived him again by the end of May. All throughout June and July and until mid-August, he was a street free agent in 2018.
That’s when the Steelers signed him, on 8/12, after waiving offensive lineman Kyle Meadows with an injury designation. He was brought in because they needed a body for practice. He ended up making the roster because of his potential. A year later, he became the tackle-eligible. Now he’s a starter.
Shoutout to Chris Ballard for the role he played in getting him to this point.