In the wake of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ release of David DeCastro, the team now has exactly zero offensive linemen who have ever started more than one game for them as intended starter. That’s not to say that they have nobody with starting experience, but they have previously been injury fill-ins.
The lone player with experience as an intended starter returning this season is Zach Banner, who won the right tackle job in training camp last year. He started the season opener in 2020, but suffered a torn ACL, and missed the rest of the season.
The most experienced player they have remaining is Chukwuma Okorafor, who started 16 games after Banner was injured last year, including the postseason, and has 18 games of starting experience overall. All of those starts, however, came as an injury fill-in.
Likewise, B.J. Finney has 12 career starts as a reserve, and both J.C. Hassenauer and Kevin Dotson each started four games as reserves for the Steelers a year ago in their first credited seasons. Of the trio, only Dotson is projected right now to be a starter.
Both Banner and Okorafor are, as of now, expected to start at the tackle positions. Kendrick Green, a rookie third-round pick, is projected to compete with Finney and Hassenauer to start at center, likely being the favorite.
Now with DeCastro gone, it’s unclear what happens at right guard, but the Steelers are reportedly in talks with veteran free agent Trai Turner, an eighth-year player who has gone to the Pro Bowl five times. He would instantly be the most experienced player on the roster if signed, which would in itself have a lot of value.
Clearly, the time is now for the offensive line and the future. First it was Marcus Gilbert being traded away in 2019. Ramon Foster retired a year ago. Maurkice Pouncey followed this offseason, with perhaps DeCastro next to retire, while both Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler were not retained in free agency.
This will be a very different offensive line in 2021. Okorafor did log more than 1,000 snaps last year, but out of the 5,490 total offensive line snaps played in 2020, only 1,753, from Okorafor, Dotson, Hassenauer, and Banner, are returning this year. That’s nearly 70 percent of their snaps lost from year to year.
It’s up to players like Dotson, Green, Banner, and Moore to take ownership of this offensive line group, and make it their own, because the veterans and their leadership are no longer present. It’s up to new coach Adrian Klemm to mold this clay into something those on the outside are not expecting it to be able to become. There is no alternative.