That the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to have a vastly different offensive line this year is one of the stories of the summer. While there are still position battles to work out, the expectation is that there will only be a few hundred carryover snaps from last season in which the players who will start played in their respective positions.
That includes the tackle position, where Chukwuma Okorafor started 15 games during the regular season last year at right tackle. This year, however, he is expected to start at left tackle; and from the Steelers’ perspective, this is a good thing.
“When we scouted Chuks, we thought he’d be a better left tackle than right, coming out of college”, general manager Kevin Colbert said earlier today prior to practice. “Last year, he lost a competition to Zach Banner at right tackle. Had they been competing for left tackle, my guess is Chuks would’ve beat him out, and that’s not to take anything away from Zach. I think Chuks can be a starting left tackle”.
Okorafor was a three-year starter at Western Michigan, during which time he saw the bulk of his starts on the left side of the offensive line. He is also left-handed, which makes it easier for an offensive tackle to play on the left side versus the right when your outside hand is your dominant hand.
Drafted in the third round in 2018, he was viewed initially at a project, coming from a non-football background as a native of Nigeria whose family did not immigrate to the United States until he was a teenager.
Okorafor did dress as a rookie, serving in the tackle-eligible tight end role, and he did start one game at right tackle with both Marcus Gilbert and Matt Feiler injured. The following season, however, Banner outpaced him as the game-day active, even though it was Okorafor who started one game at right tackle when Feiler was hurt.
The two competed to start at right tackle last summer, as Colbert mentioned, when the Steelers moved Feiler to left guard, with Banner edging out Okorafor, but the competition was consistently described as being very close.
“I knew coming into the season that it was a really good battle between him and Banner. In my opinion, you couldn’t go wrong”, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said following Banner’s injury. Former offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said the competition “went down to the end, and whoever we play is going to be, and we respect and know that he will do a great job for us”.
Likely, both Okorafor and Banner will be in the starting lineup come opening day, and perhaps even both in the positions to which they’re best suited. Now, will either of them be plus starters? That remains to be seen. And if not, there is rookie Dan Moore Jr. waiting in the wings.