Zach Banner will be a starting tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021. The only question is which side he’ll be playing on. Joining the PM Team with Andrew Fillipponi Chris Mueller, and Arthur Moats for an interview Wednesday, Banner said while he has more experience at right tackle, he is fine playing either side.
“I don’t have a preference, but at the same time I’ve played right for so long,” Banner told the show. “I played there through college except for two games. When my left tackle, he was there with me the whole time, he was out for two games and I filled in with him at left and played very well. I could switch sides. I was a switch tackle when I first got here. And especially when I was playing jumbo tight end.”
Last year, Banner won the right tackle job out of training camp. But that lasted less than one game, tearing his ACL late in the season opener against the New York Giants. Chukwuma Okorafor replaced him at RT the rest of the season. Pittsburgh may want to keep Okorafor at that spot after receiving extensive work there in 2020. But Banner gave the team-first answer and said whatever Mike Tomlin decides is fine with him.
“But at the same time, it’s all about what’s best for the team. When Coach Tomlin makes that decision, then I’m going to step up and play with whatever it is. But we have great talent on our team.”
There’s also an argument to be made for moving Okorafor to left tackle and putting Banner on the right side. Okorafor played left tackle at college and may feel more comfortable and natural there while Banner said he was more comfortable on the right side. Choosing sides for pass blocking reasons has become pretty meaningless these days, teams have great rushers from both sides, but it’s meaningful from a run-blocking standpoint. Most teams, Steelers’ included, are right-handed running offenses. And Banner is the better run blocker between him and Okorafor. That may be enough to influence the team to make the switch.
After Banner’s long journey into the league, he’s just happy to start and play. No matter where he’s asked to line up. Weight issues caused him to nearly fall out of the league. He clawed his way back into the NFL, made the Steelers’ roster despite being a mid-camp add, and has worked his way up the ladder ever since.
“I really don’t care [which side I’m on]. You know what I’m saying? I think that the pride of the left tackle position is somewhat kind of played out because TJ Watt plays against right tackles. And there there’s a lot of high-paid right tackles out there who make just as much as other left tackles. It’s always going to be the preferred pay position the biggest pay position on the offensive line especially if you’ve got guys playing both sides of it top level. But at the same time, when you talk about physically, I could do both. When you talk about mentally, I could do both. When you talk about dreams of contracts and stuff like that, it’s both. So I really don’t care. It’s really what coach tells me to do.”
Despite the lines blurring in terms of on-field value, there is still a pay disparity between left tackle and right tackle off it. Of the 13 highest-paid offensive tackles in football, only two of them – Philadelphia’s Lane Johnson and Cleveland’s Jack Conklin – play on the right side. Banner got his payday, though that two-year deal will go by in a flash, but Okorafor is heading into the final year of his rookie contract. So perhaps he wouldn’t complain about flipping over to left tackle with big money waiting for him if he plays well in 2021.
Check out the rest of the interview, which we’ll again link here.