If the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting offensive line ends up consisting of the five players most commonly projected, then they may only have one starter who has played at his 2021 position for more than two starts when the season opens. That introduces a lot of variables and uncertainty, raising questions about how the unit, which is so often said to depend upon chemistry, will perform.
That’s far less of a concern, however, for the players on the field than it is for those observing from the outside, said one of those players. It’s “concerning for you guys who write the articles”, projected right tackle Zach Banner quipped when speaking to reporters earlier today if there was a worry about the lack of experience on the offensive line.
“The most concerning thing for us as players and coaches would be is if the tape looks bad”, Banner said, shooting down concerns of lack of playing time. “That’s the only thing we can evaluate during OTAs, going into camp, leading into preseason games, is learning by the tape, but we don’t want to skip a beat”.
The Steelers have lost three starters from last season, including center Maurkice Pouncey, who retired after 11 seasons in the NFL. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who said the team told him early on they weren’t re-signing him, also left. As did Matt Feiler, who started at left guard in 2020 after playing right tackle in prior years.
Banner won a training camp competition to replace Feiler at right tackle last summer, but tore his ACL in the season opener. If he is back there this year, it will be just the second start of his career as a lineman. David DeCastro is the only player with more than 18 starts, and more than two starts at his current projected position.
Chukwuma Okorafor started 18 games at right tackle, but is projected to move to the left side, where he’s never played in a meaningful game before. Second-year Kevin Dotson projects to play at left guard, where he started two of four games as a rookie. The projected starting center is rookie third-round pick Kendrick Green.
“We want to make progress just like everybody wants us to”, Banner added, and this year, they will do so under new head offensive line coach Adrian Klemm, who served as assistant for the past two years under former coach Shaun Sarrett.
Klemm has been preaching a different attitude to his troops, taking a much more aggressive approach, including in mindset. As Kevin Dotson told us yesterday, even in verbiage, much of which he said he couldn’t share with the media.
New players, new coach, new philosophy. This is going to be a very different offensive line, one way or another. The scribes, including myself, might have their reservations about what that means. The men in the trenches know it’s in their power to make it work.