The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line is in a state of transition, to state the obvious. In just one single offseason, they parted with four starters from last year’s roster alone, with Maurkice Pouncey retiring, David DeCastro possibly soon following, and Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler leaving in free agency.
Returning after one season away, B.J. Finney is the next player up with the longest tenure with the team. Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor, the two projected tackles, come in next. The former of those two last week spoke to former Steelers tackle Max Starks on SiriusXM Radio about being a part of this transition from such a long-tenured group.
“When I first got here, they had done things the right way for so long”, he said of the linemen who came before him. “They were the best offensive line in the league for multiple years. They created that standard, and that standard was created before with you and Al and, it just goes on for years and years”.
Pouncey was a nine-time Pro Bowler, DeCastro making the trip six times. Villanueva also received that distinction twice. Others before, Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert, were also critical players in that era.
Before them, there were Starks and Willie Colon, Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons. And there was, of course, Alan Faneca, not to mention Jeff Hartings. Especially along the interior, the Steelers do have a robust history of quality offensive line play.
But now the burden is on Banner to be ‘the veteran’ of the next chapter of that group, a chapter that seems to be doing without much of a history lesson. A rookie projects to make the starting lineup, along with a second-year player, while Banner and Okorafor are both still fairly young.
“Of course, that can be some kind of mental pressure, and puts stuff on your shoulders, especially being one of the vets in the room”, he said. “It’s amazing to get Trai [Turner], because not only is he more established as a veteran and football player than I am, but also, it’s just a mindset”.
Banner may be facing the most pressure of all. Now a fifth-year veteran, he has just one career start, fewer than any player on the roster who is not a rookie or first-year player. He won the right tackle job last year, but suffered a torn ACL in the opener.
As you can tell by the comments in any article about Banner speaking to the media, a lot of people are tired of hearing him without seeing him play. It’s been a long time coming for people who have been waiting to see him deliver on the promise that he offers, and many continue to question whether or not it will ever happen.
No doubt some of those questions creep into Banner’s head, as well. He knows he hasn’t accomplished very much at all in the NFL yet, all things considered. But he also knows that he has the opportunity to silence the doubts, both outside and inside, with his play on the field.