The Pittsburgh Steelers do not have a single player on the roster right now who has started more than one game along the offensive line for them as an intended starter. Though they do have several who have started multiple games for them.
The most experienced is Chukwuma Okorafor, who has started 18 games at right tackle as an injury replacement over the past three seasons, including 16 last year, now expected to move over to the left side. That comes as Zach Banner, who won the right tackle job last year, is set to return from a torn ACL suffered in his first-ever start in the opener.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Maurkice Pouncey retired. Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler departed in free agency. Pittsburgh recently released David DeCastro as he prepares to undergo a third surgery on his ankle. Okorafor is the only returning lineman who played more than 400 snaps in 2020.
It’s no wonder so many outlets believe the Steelers’ offensive line is one of the biggest question marks in the entire league. Pro Football Focus, for example, recently listed the unit as one of the five biggest potential Achilles’ heels for any team in the league, which could derail their season. Sam Monson writes, in part:
To be fair to the Steelers, they are simply the victim of circumstances (or at least not thorough long-term planning) with much of the turnover. Pouncey retired, Villanueva departed in free agency and DeCastro needs another surgery to fix a long-term ankle injury that threatened to end his career. It’s not necessarily about blaming the team for the current situation, but rather highlighting how problematic it is. Even if they were replacing all three players with proven commodities, the chances they would jell immediately are slim. Replacing them with the kind of question marks they have in several spots is even riskier.
The Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger back chasing one more Super Bowl, and they have both the defense and receiving weapons to make that run, but their passing attack may never have the platform it needs with this offensive line. Roethlisberger had an average depth of target of just 7.4 yards last season, ranking 26th in the NFL and coming in as the lowest mark of his career. His big-time throw rate was also well down from his usual number. Those are numbers that have to change for the Pittsburgh offense to get to where it wants to go, and both need a solid offensive line in front of him to do so.
The fate of the unit will depend on guys like Banner, Kevin Dotson, and rookies Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr. They signed veteran Trai Turner to take DeCastro’s place for one season, but even that is not a definite answer. Not only does he have a significant injury history, it has shown in his play, and in his consistency.
It is quite obvious that the Steelers’ offensive line is their biggest question mark. Whether or not it will be an Achilles’ heel, though, is yet to be determined. The fact that they will not have a group that has worked together is a concern. But there is some talent here, and individually, should have the ability to succeed. It’s on new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm to get the most out of them, and on new offensive coordinator Matt Canada to design and call plays that serve them.