The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line is facing a tremendous task this training camp and preseason, to develop into a cohesive unit that can drive an improved ground game forward despite only one projected starter returning at his same position from the 2020 season.
Injuries over four days of camp have not helped make that task any easier for the players. Projected starting left guard Kevin Dotson and projected tackles Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner have missed some or all of camp and padded practices thus far. Add in additional injuries to players like B.J. Finney, J.C. Hassenauer, and Anthony Coyle, and the line is thinned out considerably.
That hasn’t stopped the players from bringing their best to the field, and Pittsburgh’s leadership is taking notice. That includes one of the most respected on-field leaders of the team and a player battling those linemen every down: Cameron Heyward.
“The offensive line, they’re going through a lot of different people. Guys are injured. I’m never going to speak on a guy’s injury, but it hasn’t been the lineup that they’ve wanted out there, but that’s what the season holds. You gotta deal with this now so you can get to the regular season and guys are ready,” Heyward said following Saturday’s practice.
Coach Mike Tomlin spoke to those injuries himself after Saturday’s on-field work, highlighting the opportunity injuries present to the back-ups on the team, who can prove they deserve a roster spot or increased role. With so many starters down, players like Rashaad Coward, Dan Moore Jr., Joe Haeg, and John Leglue have had more time on the field, and many have even seen first-team reps as a result.
The actual combination of projected starters — Okorafor and Banner at tackle, Dotson and Trai Turner at guard, and Kendrick Green at center — hasn’t had a chance to get going in padded practices yet, but Heyward likes what he has been seeing out of the players stepping up in their place, and who will be required to step up in the exact same manner during the regular season should another injury occur.
“I just think it’s growth. From OTAs to minicamp to now, I’ve definitely seen them grow. It’s a young bunch, everybody’s learning, and they’ve got to have good communication,” Heyward said. “I know Klemm [OL Coach Adrian Klemm] has stressed them a lot on their physical nature, but I’ve just seen a lot of guys like KG [Green] and Trai Turner coming along. I think he [Turner] brings that veteran leadership. So it’s going to be a different group, but they got to get the job done.”