The Pittsburgh Steelers just announced that, among others, projected starting right tackle Zach Banner would be placed on the Reserve/Injured List, meaning that he will have to miss at least the first three games of the season.
This wasn’t wholly unpredictable. He was limited during the preseason to just 12 snaps, and had not been practicing this week, with rookie Dan Moore Jr. working at left tackle and Chukwuma Okorafor sliding to the right side. This will likely be the starting lineup for at least the first three weeks of the season, and offensive coordinator Matt Canada was asked about that tackle combination during practice earlier today.
“We’re just looking at those possibilities and what’s the best for us”, he said. “We’ve not yet really determined what that’s going to be. Chuks played a lot on the right last year, as you know. Dan’s been on the left in his previous life and what he’s done before”.
Prior to this week, it was assumed that Okorafor, who started 16 games at right tackle last year, would be the starter at left tackle in 2021 following the departure of Alejandro Villanueva. Banner was the starter at right tackle already before tearing his ACL in the opener a year ago, and is evidently not all the way back yet. He was expected to return to that spot.
“We’re looking at how the best pieces fit working by themselves, working next to somebody else, where they’re most comfortable, where it gives us the best advantage matchup-wise”, Canada continued. “Nothing’s set in stone. Obviously, Coach will make those determinations for you guys when he’s ready to. We’re just looking to make sure we have everything covered because things occur in a season. You guys know that”.
As you know, the Steelers placed Banner on the Reserve/Injured List a short while later, and I can’t imagine things change from here on out. If Moore is going to start, then he’s going to play on the left, because he’s much more comfortable there and hasn’t gotten a lot of work on the right side.
The only variable is who is starting. If Moore struggles, we could see Joe Haeg inserted into the lineup, which could prompt Okorafor to slide back to the left side. Alternatively, Haeg could end up playing over Okorafor on the right.
We won’t know much more until we get this lineup on the field, or really, any lineup. This particular formation played zero snaps together during the preseason or training camp. Okorafor took all of his snaps at left tackle throughout the offseason prior to this week, to the best of our knowledge, but they knew what they were getting with him there already.