With the surprise addition of Zach Banner to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ injured reserve list to start the season, the Steelers’ offensive line was guaranteed to look different than had been expected throughout training camp and the preseason. Instead of the mammoth right tackle filling that spot for Week 1, Chukwuma Okorafor had to jump back to his 2020 position, after spending all camp readying to handle the blind side at left tackle.
And in Okorafor’s void at left tackle steps in rookie fourth-round pick Dan Moore Jr., a player expected to serve as a backup and learn much of his rookie season. The interior of the line remains as expected since Trai Turner was signed to replace David DeCastro, but the uncertainty at tackle has left the O-Line more of a question as the regular season begins. To prepare, the Week 1 starters have been taking extra snaps together to get ready to work as a unit against the Buffalo Bills’ front seven.
“You know, just trying to build continuity within each other, get on the same page,” Steelers rookie center Kendrick Green said. “Just with everything in our schemes and our plays and our fits, you try and get on one accord.”
With Okorafor’s switch back to right tackle, he is the only Steeler with more than a handful of games played before 2021 at his Week 1 position. Okorafor started 15 games and played over 1,000 snaps at right tackle last year in replacement of Banner, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1 of 2020. Kevin Dotson is the only other one with experience in a black and gold uniform. He started four games and got in 360 snaps as left guard last year, where he will start on Sunday.
Green and Moore are rookies at center and left tackle. Turner is a five-time Pro Bowler and seasoned veteran at right guard primarily for the Carolina Panthers, but only has two and a half months with the team learning the offense. That is far from an experienced group protecting Roethlisberger as he tries to improve the team’s passing attack from a down year, and lead the way for first-round running back Najee Harris and a new Steeler running game.
So, accepting the challenge ahead of them, the Steelers’ Week 1 starters are taking a little extra time to get ready and attempt to surprise the Bills and many in the NFL with their Week 1 performance.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a challenge, but like, you know, that’s why we’re doing it. You know what I mean? Just so everybody’s on the same page,” Green said. “Everybody gets those few extra reps we take out there by ourselves. Those are a few extra reps for everyone to get just that much more comfortable with each other. So that’s how we look at it.”
Green, Moore, and the Steelers will kick off against the Bills at 1 p.m. Sunday.