With training camp just around the corner, it’s time to turn our focus on what is going on within each position, and on the roster as a whole. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a closer look at some of the roster battles that we expect to see unfold over the course of training camp as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the start of the 2021 season.
Unlike last season, which was carried out through a pandemic, things should return much to normal this year, which should help provide us with clearer insights into where people stand. The return of the preseason in particular is a crucial window into operations that we lacked a year ago.
Up for Grabs: Starting Job
In the Mix: Zach Banner, Chukwuma Okorafor, Dan Moore Jr.
Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm said immediately following the selection of Dan Moore Jr. in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft that his expectation was he would be able to compete right away.
For our purposes, I’m taking him at face value and at least expecting Moore to get some first-team work, even if that essentially boils down to giving him some more valuable reps. I don’t really expect him to put up much of a fight in terms of competing for a starting job as a rookie, but I don’t know if I would be doing my job if I acted like it’s not a conversation at all.
That said, I don’t expect Joe Haeg, Rashaad Coward, Chaz Green, or anybody else to really be in the running when it comes to the tackle positions, barring injury. And I think Zach Banner is probably pretty locked in on the right side. I think if there is any wiggle room, it’s with Chukwuma Okorafor.
A fourth-year veteran, Okorafor has yet to win a starting job, but has started 18 games. All of those starts, though, came on the right side. In fact, all of his snaps have come on the right side, barring some preseason work on the left. And he’s expected to take over for Alejandro Villanueva on the left side this year.
The left tackle position is possibly the line’s most vulnerable, and for that reason alone, I think it’s worth having this discussion. While Moore didn’t draw rave reviews during OTAs (some beat writers had Cassius Marsh finding success against him), offensive linemen don’t really get much of an opportunity to shine before the pads come on.
The Texas A&M product has the next several weeks, through training camp and the preseason, to show that he can make a run at a starting job. Meanwhile, Okorafor has that same time to show that he deserves the opportunity to be a starting left tackle, even if he has never won a starting job before.
He’ll be plenty motivated, as he is an unrestricted free agent in 2022. A solid season starting at left tackle would enable him to maximize his earning potential, either in Pittsburgh or (perhaps more likely) elsewhere.