The Pittsburgh Steelers have spent most of the early part of training camp without the vast majority of their projected starting offensive line. Beginning this week, however, they now seem to have everybody working—even if not all of them are practicing where you might expect.
While head coach Mike Tomlin is sending Kevin Dotson a message about his job needing to be earned, running with the second team behind Rashaad Coward, Chukwuma Okorafor was back running with the first team at left tackle after working back from injury.
While he would not disclose what his ailment was, Okorafor did acknowledge while speaking to reporters that he “kind of had a little something going on” from an injury standpoint, but stressed that he is over it. “I’m fine now”.
In fact, he let it be know that he was close to suiting up for the Steelers last week. “At first it was kind of like 50/50. We kind of thought, we’re gonna play the Hall of Fame game, but after talking to the training staff, the coaches, it didn’t really make any sense to try and rush back”, he said.
A fourth-year pro, Okorafor does have 18 total starts under his belt, but all of them have come as an injury replacement, including 16 in 2020. All of them, also, were at the right tackle position. While he has college experience playing on the left side, he has only lined up there professionally in practice and in preseason games.
He is over there now after the Steelers failed to re-sign Alejandro Villanueva, now with the Baltimore Ravens, as an unrestricted free agent. Villanueva had been the team’s left tackle for the past six seasons, making the Pro Bowl a couple of times along the way.
Whatever ailment Okorafor had, it has given rookie fourth-round pick Dan Moore Jr. an excellent opportunity to get a lot of high-quality reps with the first-string offensive line throughout the early portions of training camp. He was also called upon to start the preseason opener.
Ostensibly, there is a competition going on for the job. New offensive line coach Adrian Klemm let it be known as soon as the team drafted Moore that they expected him to compete right away. With Okorafor just getting back practicing in full, though, it’s unclear exactly how this competition may take shape.
This is a critical year for Okorafor, a third-round pick out of Western Michigan, now in a contract year. He could establish himself as a starting left tackle by season’s end, and would stand to make bank, either in Pittsburgh, or somewhere else in 2022 on the open market.