Mike Tomlin has been adamant about not yet making any changes to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line. For Week 4’s contest against the Green Bay Packers, he might not have a choice. With RT Chukwuma Okorafor in concussion protocol, Joe Haeg may be the team’s starting right tackle this weekend. Haeg replaced Okorafor in the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals and Tuesday, Mike Tomlin commended him for the job he did as next man up.
“I thought he gave us a solid effort,” Tomlin told reporters during his weekly press conference.
Haeg logged 33 snaps against the Bengals and held his own despite a difficult situation. He’s best served as a run-blocker but came into a game where the Steelers were down multiple scores and forced to almost exclusively throw the football. He did not give up a sack and didn’t seem to allow many pressures, performing admirably in his first Sunday action since last season.
Tomlin said Haeg’s versatility was the main thing that convinced the team to sign him to a two-year deal in the offseason.
“That’s one of the things that attracted us to him. He’s been a swing tackle the better part of his career. A guy that’s capable of stepping up and playing above the line on a limited amount of exposure. He’s equally effective at right tackle as he is left. He also has been involved with some short yard type of things and functions in the past. And all of that was attractive.”
Haeg played 127 offensive snaps for the Super Bowl champ Bucs in 2020. A large chunk of those came as a tackle-eligible/sixth offensive lineman. Here’s what we wrote about Haeg in our post-signing scouting report.
“I do suspect Haeg will become the Steelers’ swing tackle behind Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner. He might not be next man up at guard if Pittsburgh drafts a center and pushes B.J. Finney to a backup role, which would be ideal.
Joe Haeg is not going to transform this running game. But he is an upgrade as a tackle-eligible, which is extra important against 4-3 teams like the Bengals and the fact the Steelers don’t have a great blocking TE on the roster (unless you’re really confident in Kevin Rader getting a hat). So having that linemen is important, even if it makes you a little more predictable and limited schematically.”
However, Haeg has not received any work as a sixth offensive lineman. Not in training camp, preseason, or the first three weeks of the regular season. Though it has its drawbacks, for a run game desperate to get going, that should be an option worth exploring. Of course, if Okorafor can’t play, Haeg may wind up being the starting right tackle rendering that point moot. He’s shown to be the team’s best run blocking tackle so perhaps he can boost the run game a bit.
Zach Banner is also eligible to return off IR for this weekend’s game. It’s unclear if he’s healthy and ready enough to do so. Banner or Haeg would be an upgrade in the run game and if/when Banner is healthy, perhaps Haeg can then be used as a sixth offensive lineman to add some physicality up front.