It took nearly four weeks, but the projected starting offensive line of Chuks Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green, Trai Tuner, and Zach Banner took their first snaps together as a unit in practice as mentioned in Alex Kozora’s training camp report. HC Mike Tomlin mentioned in his press conference on Thursday that he was excited to see “the collective cohesion and development of the offensive line”.
Tomlin also mentioned the slow start in the last game against the Eagles, and more specifically, the holding penalties that were called and how they were drive killers to the first-team offense. Tomlin, when asked whether the starting offensive line may remain in the game after Ben Roethlisberger is pulled to get more snaps together as a unit responded, “he’s not required to make that happen.”
According to reports from training camp, RT Zach Banner has looked good in team sessions since being ramped up in practice reps while recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in Week 1 last season. It has been mentioned that he looks good moving in space and has had some solid reps in pass protection in team sessions.
Given the investment Banner has made over the past couple of years to transform his body and lose the bad weight from his frame, it doesn’t surprise me to hear that he is noticeably moving better now cleared from the injury. He signed a two-year deal with Pittsburgh this offseason, stating Mike Tomlin had a conversation shortly after he sustained the injury that they had a plan for him. Should his progress properly depict his readiness for live game action, he will be a welcomed addition to the starting lineup at RT.
While I have been a proposed “hater” of LT Chuks Okorafor for most of the offseason in lead up to training camp, Alex Kozora’s recent post highlighting Okorafor’s game against the Eagles opened my eyes that his play overall in that game wasn’t as bad as I initially thought watching the game in real-time. Sure, there were two instances where Chuks didn’t play well on a ghost rush from #94 Josh Sweat and on an inside spin move, but other than that, he actually had a pretty good game. He showed quick feet in the passing game and a stronger punch with his hands than before. He also showed some more nasty in the running game that I have been clamoring for all offseason like on this run by #26 Anthony McFarland Jr., taking the DE and violently turning his right shoulder inward to create a seal for McFarland to run behind.
Kozora, along with others in attendance for training camp, have noted the concern with Kendrick Green and his anchor to fend off power rushers at the NFL level. He is extremely athletic and is an easy mover in space as you probably witnessed his play in the Hall of Fame Game against the Cowboys, building speed running downfield to pick up blocks in the secondary.
However, defensive linemen like Tyson Alualu have been consistently driving him back in practice, getting inside his pads and walking him back into the lap of the QB. That exact same thing happened in the game last Thursday against the Eagles where Green quite literally got walked back into #2 Mason Rudolph by the defensive lineman, being unable to stop dig in an anchor down as he gave up the ugly sack.
RG Trai Tuner’s play wasn’t exactly stellar on Thursday night either as he continues to try and regain his form before his injury-riddled 2020 campaign. His lateral movement skills in pass protection have looked sub-par in camp, reportedly struggling to handle pass rushers on the outside. He also got a holding penalty on a run by Najee Harris that would resulted in a nice gain on the ground, not running his feet and lunging forward to grab a hold of the defender. It hasn’t been all bad for Turner though, like on this third down rep where he takes care of the defensive lineman in pass protection from the right guard spot. Hopefully, more reps to knock off the rust is what he needs to play with more consistency during the regular season.
While much has been made in the media about Mike Tomlin’s remarks on LG Kevin Dotson and his starting spot, he has been possibly the most dominant offensive lineman on tape thus far in his short action after coming back from an ankle injury. In a recent post, I highlighted Dotson’s performance against the Eagles where he imposed his will on the second-team defense, showing good feet in pass protection and the physicality and nastiness to create holes in the run game that this team needs in 2021 like on this rep below. While Tomlin won’t “anoint” Dotson as the starter just yet, I think it’s safe to say you should expect him in the starting lineup against Buffalo Week 1.
So, given all of the injuries, missed practice time, and ups-and-downs in play thus far in training camp and the teams’ first two preseason games, how do you expect the offensive line to hold up against the Detroit Lions Saturday night? Do you think they will fare well against the team’s projected starting defensive line? How long do you think they will keep them in the game together? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!