Injuries have attacked the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line thus far in training camp. Over half of the initial projected starters have missed time through a walk and a half of camp because of them, leaving the team with only a couple spare players at one point. Only one projected starter took the field during Thursday’s preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame game.
Pittsburgh is getting some relief from the ailments. Projected left tackle Chukwuma Okorafor returned to the field after missing Thursday’s game, and across from him, projected right tackle Zach Banner has made his return, coming off a torn ACL in his right knee that ended his first season as a starter in the Steelers’ first game.
Banner spoke briefly with Missi Matthews for steelers.com following camp Monday about his injury.
“It’s doing better. I mean, I’m optimistic, I’m getting better every day, I’m getting more reps every single day. I’m getting different looks moving around,” Banner said. “I’m really working really hard, so I kind of just want to lead by example and just be there for the guys when I’m not in.”
Even leaving in his first game as a starter last season, Banner is one of only two players projected to start on the Steelers’ O-Line this season who has started a game previously for the team at their projected 2021 spot. Okorafor has spent his career at right tackle but is switching to left, and his rival for the job, Dan Moore Jr., is a rookie. So is Kendrick Green, the projected center. Trai Turner has five Pro Bowls but is in his first year in Pittsburgh. Only Kevin Dotson, with four starts last year as an injury replacement at left guard, has started for the Steeler O-Line, and he is currently in a battle with free agent pickup Rashaad Coward for the job, with Coward taking the first team reps currently.
Finally getting his chance in 2020 to be a full-time starter, but seeing it end in his first game, Banner had to stay focused and fight through his recovery to get back to earning that job again for 2021. Matthews asked him about getting snaps this preseason to prove to himself he is ready to return from his injury, and Banner admitted it’s something he has been answering a lot as he worked his way back, even asking that question of himself.
“Most importantly, I got to trust in the process. I know that was a pre-written question by you, but that’s a question that a lot of people have. And that’s a question that I used to have, until a coach just told me to slow my roll, just trust the process, and trust what they’re doing,” Banner said.
Banner’s next chance to return to the field for the first time since Week 1 last season comes in three days, when Pittsburgh plays its second preseason game of the season, at the Philadelphia Eagles.