Pittsburgh’s offensive line has a long way to go before Week 1. The unit was already starting completely across the board players who had never been full-time starters at their projected positions for the Steelers. And complicating matters further so far in training camp has been a series of injuries. Three of the five projected starters have missed at least some of camp through the first week, and the expected starting line has taken zero snaps together.
It’s a major shift from the stability the team has enjoyed over the last decade at the position, and puts the players replacing that stability behind a lineman-sized eight-ball. Speaking with Movin’ the Chains on SiriusXM NFL Radio following training camp Tuesday, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger addressed the situation his blockers are in.
“Anybody that plays line or knows anything about football knows that it’s about cohesiveness up there. And that’s what we’ve always had here. We’ve had that group, that’s been here, the Pouncey, Ramon, Dave Al, Matt Feiler, those guys, and those guys played together for a good chunk of time, that cohesiveness and knowing that guy to your left, knowing the guy to your right,” Roethlisberger said.
For the last half-decade and longer, the group blocking for Roethlisberger has been Alejandro Villanueva (first year starting was 2015), Ramon Foster (2011), Maurkice Pouncey (2010) and David DeCastro (2013). Only right tackle has seen frequent turnover, with four players starting there since 2011.
Projected to replace them is Chukwuma Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green, Trai Turner, and Zach Banner. Okorafor is the only one with a full season starting for Pittsburgh, but on the opposite side of where he is projected. Dotson started four games last season. Banner started one, and Green is a rookie. Turner is completely new to the team, but a seasoned starter: He has seven years of starting experience, with five Pro Bowls.
Thus far, he and Green have been the team’s healthy linemen. Banner just hit the field in pads, while Dotson and Okorafor have missed time throughout camp. Roethlisberger noted the lack of reps for the starting group, and knows it isn’t an immediate fix for a new group to step in and replace the old one.
“They’re on a fast track. They’ve got to learn each other really quick and there’s going to be bumps in the road,” Roethlisberger said, citing the need for the players to get reps next to each other to build that experience. Despite those bumps, he did end his analysis with a positive expectation of the linemen, stating his belief that they will be ready to protect he and the Steelers’ ground game as the regular season arrives.
“There’s a lot of unknowns, a lot of question marks. But the challenges that are in front of them, they’re up for that challenge,” Roethlisberger said, before adding an amusing goal for his group. “I hope that their biggest pride, I know that everyone is preaching running the ball, right? We have to run the ball better, this that and the other. Well, I hope their biggest pride is protecting the quarterback.”