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2021 Offseason Questions: How Many New Starters Will There Be On O-Line?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books, and it ended in spectacular fashion—though the wrong kind of spectacular—in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

After setting a franchise record by opening the year on an 11-game winning streak, they followed that up by losing three games in a row, going 1-4 in the final five games, with only a 17-point comeback staving off a five-game slide. But all the issues they had in the regular season showed up in the postseason that resulted in their early exit.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions, and right now, they lack answers. What will Ben Roethlisberger do, and what will they do with him? What will the salary cap look like? How many free agents are they going to lose? Who could they possibly afford to retain? Who might they part ways with—not just on the roster, but also on the coaching staff?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: How many new starters will there be along the offensive line in 2021?

With one retirement out of the way and multiple starters scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, the offensive line is in the midst of a transition period. There is at least one guaranteed new starter, almost surely one who is currently not on the roster, to replace the retired Maurkice Pouncey at center.

Alejandro Villanueva is likely to leave in free agency, and nobody has started a game at left tackle for the Steelers other than him since Kelvin Beachum tore his ACL. Matt Feiler and Zach Banner also join him as free agents this offseason.

The answer to this question could depend on classifications. Zach Banner won the starting job in 2020 but only played one game. Chukwuma Okorafor started 16 games last year and 18 in his career, but has never been considered an outright starter, so if he starts, would he be a ‘new’ starter?

Depending upon how one answers, the number of new starters could be anywhere between one and four, though two is far more probable than one. Even if Feiler returns, he would be more likely to play tackle, leaving Kevin Dotson to enter the starting lineup.

Left tackle is pretty open, but it’s reasonable to believe that a rookie draft pick could end up starting there. Banner or Okorafor, or even Feiler, could start at right tackle. The two guard positions right now seem to be the most secure.

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