As the Pittsburgh Steelers begin their slate of preseason games, a lot has been made about the offensive linemen, or lack thereof, participating in training camp practices. Almost half of the offensive linemen on the preseason roster have missed time one way or another with one of the key members of the group being projected starting LT Chukwuma Okorafor. Apparently the injury Okorafor has been dealing with has been minor in nature according to various reports from camp, but nonetheless, there is valuable practice time and reps being missed by the young tackle heading into the final year of his rookie deal making the transition from the left to the right side of the offensive line.
Meanwhile, rookie OT Dan Moore Jr. has been impressing so far in camp, showing good technique in pass protection and physical demeanor in the way he attacks his assignments as a run blocker. Coaches and local media members have relayed the same message, suggesting Moore is “ahead of the curve” when it comes to being a developmental tackle prospect that was expected to sit the bench his first professional season, seeing minimal reps in case of injury as a potential swing tackle.
Some have gone as far to say that Moore could potentially push for Chuks Okorafor’s gig as the starting LT for Pittsburgh as early as Week 1 against Buffalo. Initially, I took this as being highly exaggerated, but after going back and doing some film study, this idea may not be as far-fetched as you might believe.
There are some reps where Chuks showcases his size and athleticism well like on this rep versus JJ Watt on the edge where he gets a good vertical set off of the snap of the football, sets the depth of the pocket, and moves laterally to prevent the counter inside.
Here is another example against #95 Myles Garrett where Chuks plays under control and anticipates Garrett’s chop/rip combo, getting his outside shoulder and runs him up the arc of the pocket to keep Ben clean on the play.
However, there are moments that are pretty disappointing on tape where Chuks is in good position, but tends to panic in his pass set, having his technique suffer for it. Here’s a clear example of this against #54 Olivier Vernon where Chuks gets a good vertical set off of the snap but pauses his feet and shoots his hands forward whilst dropping his head, resulting in him completely whiffing on the block and #2 Mason Rudolph taking a shot in the side on the sack.
Or this rep versus #91 Ryan Kerrigan formerly of the Washington Football Team last season where Chuks gets far too upright and passive in both his stance and his punch, giving his chest to Kerrigan who hits him with a long arm in his midsection and tosses Chuks to the ground in pursuit of the QB.
While a part of a run-heavy system at Texas A&M, Dan Moore Jr. has the makings of what you look for in a prototypical tackle prospect in the NFL. He has great size and length boasting the long arms and movement skills to mirror his man in pass protection. Watch this play against Vanderbilt where he gets out of his stance on his pass set to set the depth of the pocket, playing with good knee bend and arms extended to run the edge rusher around the arc. He isn’t dynamic out of his stance, but he is quick enough and plays steady, not panicking against the pass rusher.
He occasionally can get high with his stance but does a good job to anchor in against the rush, being able to hit and replace his hands on the defender’s torso to neutralize the rush like he does on this rep against LSU.
In the run game, Moore shows good athleticism and movement skills for his size and position, being able to get out in space and climb to the second level of the defense. We often saw Texas A&M pull their tackles with their scheme across the LOS, something that Moore showed he can do effectively.
He also shows promise in Pittsburgh’s revamped zone-blocking system with his ability to combo off to the linebacker, chipping the downed defensive linemen with the guard as he effectively climbs to get a body on another defender in attempt to spring a run.
One of the things I have gotten on Moore about during the offseason was his lack on consistency in terms of playing with urgency and a mean streak as a run blocker. There are times where he seemed to be loafing around, not finishing blocks with authority or trying to get a body on a man like we see here against North Carolina where Moore is slow to adjust to the LB coming downhill, allowing him to cross his face and attempt to tackle #28 Isaiah Spiller in the backfield.
However, Alex Kozora has reported that Moore has been playing well thus far in training camp, showing improved technique and more importantly, a consistent mean streak you need your offensive linemen to have, getting chippy with the defense and even getting into fights with the likes of Cam Heyward which in itself is a scary proposition. Here is an example of this type of play Moore needs to more routinely exploit on this down block against Clemson, planting the linebacker into the ground and finishing over top of him.
Meanwhile, Chuks has yet to personally impress me in the run game department heading into Year 4. While I can say that Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green, Trai Turner, and Zach Banner all play with a constant mean streak and look to generate a push up front, I cannot say the same for Okorafor. This is something that Daniel Kitchen and I both highlighted a month ago on the Terrible Podcast, saying that Okorafor is the odd man out and sticks out like a sore thumb as to what OL coach Adrian Klemm is trying to implement in terms of playing aggressive.
Too many times we see Chuks give up ground almost instantly into the backfield despite being a large, powerful offensive tackle. Here is one instance where he again gets way too high as he steps inside to seal off the defensive lineman, getting driven back into the face of #30 James Conner, forcing him to jump cut to the left and get bottled up for no gain on the play.
Or this play against Dallas where he allows #96 Neville Gallimore to crash inside, generating no push upfront and allows the line to collapse and the run play to go nowhere.
Again, we see Chuks bad tendencies to lunge forward and drop his head in the run game here against Houston, having the angle on #55 Benardrick McKinney when climbing to the second level, but shoots his hands forward, trying to lean into the block rather than run his feet through contact, completely whiffing on the play as McKinney easily sidesteps him and makes a play on the runner in the backfield.
After re-watching the tape on Chuks and Moore, I have to recognize that Chuks is the more proficient pass protector right now, having that quickness off of the snap and movement skills to mirror some of the best pass rushers in the league as we have seen. However, his lows as a pass blocker are concerning, coupled with his inconsistencies and lack of nastiness in the run game make him a liability on that offensive line as times based on the team trying to establish a physical presence upfront.
Moore may not be as sudden as Chuks as a pass blocker, but he is fairly consistent, using his size and length to his advantage by showing patience and being able to punch defenders with arms extended and neutralize the rush. He also has shown an improved demeanor thus far in training camp, being able to “run through someone’s face” and fit the mold Pittsburgh is trying to establish upfront with a hopefully improved rushing attack in 2021.
Pass protection is key for the blindside protector of the QB, making Okorafor the sensible favorite to keep the starting job. However, should Moore show in preseason action that he’s not that far off of Chuks as a pass protector and show more of a push and aggressiveness as a run blocker, Coach Klemm and Coach Tomlin may elect to go with the rookie sooner than many expect to man the LT spot in 2021.
What are your thoughts on both Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor? Do you think that inconsistent play, missed time in training camp, and a lack of a physical play style by Okorafor could open the door for Moore to win the starting LT job in 2021? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!