Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Adrian Klemm wants the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line to be more physical. It’s undoubtedly true, they simply weren’t strong enough at the point of attack last year, and Klemm’s challenge applies to everyone. Including OT Chukwuma Okorafor. Okorafor repeated Klemm’s message in a Thursday Zoom call with reporters.
“I feel like obviously last year in terms of running the ball, it wasn’t the best,” he said. “If it’s me, whoever is going to be out there playing, [Klemm’s coaching has] mostly been to be more physical this year. I feel like that’s the most that he does for us. We gotta try to go and move guys out there.”
“It wasn’t the best” is the most charitable way to evaluate the Steelers’ run game. Pittsburgh’s rushing attack was the worst in the league a year ago and got worse as the season went along. They started out the season well-enough, showing the ability to close out games via the running game. But after the first month, the run game tanked and they finished last in the league in several categories.
That caused the team to make wholesale changes to fix the run game. Drafting Najee Harris, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr. Promoting Matt Canada to offensive coordinator. Elevating Klemm to head offensive line coach and bringing in Chris Morgan as the team’s new assistant. Okorafor is expected to flip to left tackle after playing right tackle across his 15 starts a year ago.
As has been outlined by several players before him, Klemm is bringing more of a junkyard mentality to an offensive line that needs to shift its mindset and style.
“I feel like this year it’s more about going downfield. Last year it was more about shuffling, walk up to them. Now it’s ‘attack, attack, attack.’ If it’s inside zone, outside zone, gap scheme, it doesn’t really matter…it’s going to be a good year, for sure.”
Okorafor is playing to improve the Steelers’ run game. He’s also playing for a contract. 2021 is the final year of his rookie deal and if Okorafor plays well this season, he’ll get paid handsomely for it. But he’s not focused on what will happen months from now.
“I honestly have one job. It’s to play well. If it’s my second year or my last year on my deal, I only focus on that year. I still have what six, seven, eight months to look down there. So right now it’s taking it day-by-day training with OTAs, mini camp next week, training camp, and then later the whole year hopefully. So I don’t really want to think too deep down the road now. So we’ll see what happens. This is a business. We’ll see how it does play out.”
We’ll see how it plays out and how it pays out. Left tackles still get paid more than their right side counterparts. Pittsburgh will have the cap space to re-sign him if his play warrants it. But Okorafor has much to prove this season before the team thinks about locking him down long-term.