Zach Banner is entering his fifth season in the NFL. He has never spent a single game of his career without being on a 53-man roster, his rookie season being with the Cleveland Browns (after originally being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts), for the past three-plus seasons, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Going into year five, we still know very little about him, and yet he is still projected to be the starting right tackle, as he was at the beginning of last season. He won a training camp competition against Chukwuma Okorafor for that right during a closed camp due to COVID-19, and he ended his first career start with a torn ACL.
While we were able to be on-hand this year for the open training camp practices, Banner only participated in about a dozen snaps during the preseason, as he continues to work his way back from that ACL injury. He did not even travel with the team for the final preseason game (though not due to any new development).
He is one of the biggest unknowns for a Steelers team that has a number of them heading into the 2021 season. Can he be a full-time starter? He only has a few dozen NFL snaps in meaningful games manning the position, and those snaps were somewhat uneven. And now he is returning from a serious knee injury that has seen him limited throughout the Summer.
Albeit, perhaps, by design. Banner has talked previously about giving himself over to the training and medical staff and simply doing whatever they tell him to do, including protecting his body from himself when he wants to do things they think he should avoid, or simply do more than he’s doing.
The byproduct of that is the simple fact that it’s left us with little to evaluate, and the coaches as well. We don’t really know a whole lot about him, but we’ve talked about his potential for going on four years now, as a potential viable long-term answer on the right side.
Last year was supposed to be the year that we get our answers. A major injury deprived both us, and him, of finding out whether or not he could handle it. We are entering this season under less than ideal circumstances due to his knee injury to find out more.
It’s reasonable to think that he will not be at his best to start the season due to his knee injury, even if it’s simply because it means he has more rust to knock off than most players do, including due to the fact that he has hardly played in nearly a year. But it’s only a matter of weeks now before he gets his second shot.