The Pittsburgh Steelers may not have a history of having all-time greats at the tackle spot (it’s one of the few positions at which they don’t have at least one player enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame), but they’ve certainly had plenty of guys who’ve gotten the job done, recently with names such as Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler.
Though Feiler moved inside to guard last season, both of them are now gone, finding opportunities in free agency, and at least Villanueva, as he told reporters after signing with the Baltimore Ravens, was informed early in the process that he would not be re-signed. It is unknown of Feiler was given any such notice, but he signed rather early and earned a nice deal for himself.
But the long and short of it is that the Steelers left themselves in a position where they are largely counting on in-house options to be the answers, specifically Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor, both of whom are entering their fourth season in Pittsburgh’s system—and now on their third different offensive line coach, albeit with continuity as internal promotions.
Banner spoke to reporters yesterday about the state of the tackle position, with himself projected to resume his job on the right side after winning the starting position and tearing his knee in the opener, and with Okorafor, who replaced him, moving to the left side in Villanueva’s spot.
“The same amount of work that’s not only kept us here is the same amount of work that has given these coaches the trust to have us as the tackles, and that means a lot”, he said during a lengthy interview. “And that shows a lot, right? It means a lot that they didn’t trade [for anybody] or they didn’t trade us. So they wanted to keep us, and it’s a blessing, but it’s also a responsibility and neither of us take it for granted, especially me”.
While the Steelers did sign a veteran reserve tackle in free agency in Joe Haeg, and added another journeyman-type tackle-capable reserve in Rashaad Coward, Pittsburgh bypassed opportunities to materially upgrade the tackle position in a meaningful way, skipping tackles through the first three rounds of the draft before selecting Dan Moore, Jr.
Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm has been pretty direct in stating that he expects Moore to be in the mix to compete for a starting job, but Banner and Okorafor understand that the Steelers could have done more, and likely would have, if they had less confidence in them.
As Banner says, that perhaps means something especially to him, as he comes back from an ACL injury suffered in his first-career start, after four years of waiting. He was actually a free agent this offseason, and was the one lineman they re-signed, on a two-year, $9.5 million contract, which included $4.5 million in 2021 between a $1.25 million base salary and a $3.25 million signing bonus.