90 In 30: Steelers 2021 Training Camp Preview Series: Abdullah Anderson, Kalen Ballage, Zach Banner

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 offseason practices concluded last week. Next up for the team is their annual training camp, which should get underway in the latter part of July. Ahead of training camp, we will preview the team’s 90-man roster three players at a time for you as part of a 30-post series. This Steelers 90-man roster preview that includes outlooks for each player goes alphabetically by last name to make it easy to follow along with.

The next three players we will preview today are Abdullah Anderson, Kalen Ballage and Zach Banner.

DE Abdullah Anderson — Anderson, a Bucknell product, signed with the Steelers as a free agent this past April. The Chicago Bears originally signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2018. In the last two seasons with the Bears and Minnesota Vikings, Anderson recorded a sack and just four total tackles in seven total games. He spent most of his first two seasons on the Bears’ practice squad, and most of the 2020 season with the Vikings.

To date, Anderson has logged just under 120 defensive snaps in the NFL, with most of those coming with the Bears in 2019. At his 2018 Pro Day, Anderson measured in at 6032, 303 pounds. He ran his 40-yard dash in 5.12 seconds, did 32 reps on the bench, posted a vertical jump of 30 inches, and a broad jump of 8’10”. His short-shuttle time was 4.68 seconds, and his 3-cone time was 7.38 seconds.

Outlook: Anderson, like most players currently on the Steelers’ offseason 90-man roster, will have a tough time surviving the Steelers’ final rounds of cuts later this summer. For starters, he is part of a position group that includes starters Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu. Behind those three sit Chris Wormley, Carlos Davis, Isaiah Buggs, and rookie draft pick Isaiahh Loudermilk, who was selected in the fifth round this year following a trade up.

Barring a few injuries happening ahead Anderson on the depth chart, his best shot at making the 53-man roster this summer will likely include him needing to beat out Wormley, who is now in his second season with the team after re-signing earlier in the offseason. At worst, maybe Anderson can show enough this summer in training camp and the preseason to warrant Pittsburgh signing him to the practice squad. The Steelers will likely only keep six total defensive linemen on their 53-man roster this year. If that’s the case, Anderson faces a tough numbers game.

RB Kalen Ballage — The Steelers signed Ballage to a one-year contract in late March after the former 2018 fourth-round draft pick out of Arizona State played with the New York Jets and Los Angeles Chargers in 2020. Ballage, who started his NFL career with the Miami Dolphins, has registered 629 yards and seven touchdowns on 201 total carries to date, and has also recorded 285 receiving yards on 52 total receptions so far in the NFL. To his credit, Ballage has had quite a bit of success as a short-yardage running back in the NFL. He also can play some on special teams, something Pittsburgh will likely ask him to do this summer in order to make the 53-man roster.

Outlook: The Steelers drafted running back Najee Harris in the first round this year, and he’ll obviously be the team’s bell-cow in 2021. Behind Harris on the depth chart currently sits running backs Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland Jr. Both should have good shots at making the 53-man roster this summer. If both Snell and McFarland stick, it will be interesting to see if a fourth running back will ultimately be kept along with fullback Derek Watt.

The Steelers still have running back Jaylen Samuels under contract, as well. He’s at least one player that Ballage will likely need to beat out this summer if he’s going to survive the final round of cuts. Should Ballage ultimately not make the Steelers 53-man roster this year out of training camp, it would seem logical that he might have a chance of sticking in Pittsburgh as a veteran-status player on the team’s practice squad.

T Zach Banner — Banner, a former fourth-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 2017, won the starting right tackle spot in training camp last season as he beat out fellow tackle Chukwuma Okorafor. Unfortunately for him, however, he didn’t even make through the Steelers first regular season game of 2020, as he tore the ACL in his right knee in the second half of that contest and thus was lost for the remainder of the year.

Banner only played 59 offensive snaps in 2020 and four more on special teams. Knee injury and all, the Steelers rewarded Banner with a new contract, $9.5 million for two years that included a 2021 base salary of just $1.25 million. He received a $3.25 million signing bonus as well. By all accounts, Banner should be ready for the start of the 2021 regular season after working on a limited basis throughout the team’s offseason sessions.

Outlook: Assuming Banner’s knee rehab remains on track, he should be the Steelers’ starting right tackle to open the 2021 regular season. He looked good in the limited playing time he received last season at that spot. The hope is that he can pick up where he left off at prior to suffering his knee injury. Banner might just wind up being the Steelers’ new leader of their offensive line in 2021, as well. He certainly has the personality for such a role. The Steelers look to be a much more physical and aggressive line in 2021 under Adrian Klemm, who is now in charge of that unit. Banner seems to be up for that style of play.

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