Great teams don’t solely rely upon the instructions of their coaches. You can’t be trained into viewing your teammates as your brothers. That’s something that you work at between reps, in the locker room, off the field.
That bond is more important for some positions than others, such as the offensive line, which is why, for many years, the linemen would gather at former Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey’s house for ‘porch talk’, bonding nights coupled with additional film study, and in later years, some family time.
Now that not just Pouncey, but also Marcus Gilbert, Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, Matt Feiler, and Alejandro Villanueva are all gone, there is so much veteran experience and leadership out the door, with many new faces. That just means it’s time for others, like Zach Banner, to step up.
“We try to keep the ‘porch talks’. We call it the fellowship sometimes, too. Those things still continue”, he told reporters yesterday. “My host is the host house [now]. Pounce did it for so many years, and now he’s partying with his twin around the world, loving retirement, so we have to keep that fellowship and that same type of bond on and off the field”.
Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor are now the longest-tenured Steelers in the offensive line room with consecutive employment, though sixth-year B.J. Finney has more years logged with the team. J.C. Hassenauer is also in his third season working with the team, but everybody else in that room is newer for the team, even eighth-year veteran Trai Turner, signed over the break before training camp. That makes it all the more important to have these get-togethers.
“We’re continuing to do that, and even increasing it more”, Banner said. “Those were five older guys with kids and wives and stuff, so other than porch talk, they would spend it with them. We try to catch a meal, hang out, watch some extra film. You have to make up for the lack of knowing each other, and knowing the room”.
It’s unclear who among this group might emerge as a longtime occupant of the room, but Banner, going into year five, is hoping to finally have a full season as a starter in the first half of his new two-year deal. Okorafor is in the final year of his rookie contract. Turner is most likely a one-year rental.
There are three young linemen in the room whose story is yet to be written. Kevin Dotson started four games as a rookie last year and is projected to be at left guard in 2021. Third-round pick Kendrick Green is likely to start at center, while fourth rounder Dan Moore Jr. potentially has a future starting at tackle as well.
Who among these will emerge as the future Pounceys and Fosters? If Banner sticks around, I imagine he’ll be one. My money is on Green, though, and Dotson could play that role as well. But first these guys need to establish themselves on the field.