The Pittsburgh Steelers and head coach Mike Tomlin have believed in the 6’8” Zach Banner pretty much from the moment that they first got him on the football field during training camp in 2018, or so it seems, after having already gone through three organizations over the course of the prior year.
A former fourth-round pick whose stock could have been higher had he been more disciplined, Banner looks back at his younger self and sees where he’s gone wrong, and wants to make sure he doesn’t make the same mistakes, speaking recently with Jim Rome about his early setbacks and his mindset coming off of a torn ACL looking to win back a starting job.
“How it happened was a reflection off of my battle with my weight and stuff earlier in my career and throughout college”, he said of his beginnings in the NFL. “Obviously, I fell in the draft and I wasn’t doing the right things off the field with my body and stuff in my first year, and that offseason, I kind of spent a month and a half during free agency just waiting for the phone to ring, and just working on my body, working on my mindset”.
Though he is naturally a big man, Banner once struggled to keep his weight below the range of 400 pounds. It was one of the main reasons that the Indianapolis Colts first let him go, then the Cleveland Browns, and then the Carolina Panthers.
The latter two had both claimed him off waivers, but after the Panthers let him go, he was idle for a while, unemployed. That was until Pittsburgh brought him in for training camp when they needed some depth at tackle, and even then, it wasn’t without reservations.
“When Coach T and the Steelers called, they asked me what I’d been doing to change those, and I made a promise to them that, not only do I have it together, but I’m gonna keep working”, he told Rome. “And once they signed me and I got here to the 412, I just kept my head down and just worked. Everything I’ve earned, I feel great for, I feel great about, but at the same time, I don’t want this contract or what I’m doing now to be the end of the road”.
The team carried him as their ninth lineman all season in 2018, though he did not play. A year later, he moved up and earned the swing tackle job, or more accurately, the tackle-eligible role, in which he played more than 200 snaps during the year.
Entering last season, the Steelers kicked Matt Feiler inside to guard and gave Banner the opportunity to compete with Chukwuma Okorafor for the right tackle job. Banner won, but he tore his ACL before the end of his first start.
Now he’s back on a two-year deal worth over $9 million. Right now, it’s still unclear if Alejandro Villanueva is coming back, but either way, Banner figures to be in a position to compete for a job, and one that he intends to hold for a long time, in Pittsburgh.