Zach Banner may be healthy enough to play this weekend. But that doesn’t mean he’ll hop back into the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting lineup. Head offensive line coach Adrian Klemm spoke with the media Friday and said Banner’s spot will need to be earned, not given.
“Last year Zach won a starting a position,” Klemm told reporters via audio provided by the team. “Chuks came in when Zach got injured. Even though he started the whole year, he had to earn the start too. So he worked his way into the right tackle position. And now Zach is back and it’s his job to fight to get it back. Nothing’s gonna be handed to them. It’s not a negative thing, not trying to be a tough guy or anything like that. It’s just, it is what it is.”
Banner returned to practice last week but was not activated for the team’s Week Four loss to the Green Bay Packers. Thursday, Banner told reporters his body felt good enough to play and the fact he was even speaking to the media and returning to social media is a sign he’s healthy enough to get activated off IR this weekend. But whether he will or not remains to be seen and according to Klemm, even if he does, Banner won’t waltz into the starting lineup.
Joe Haeg received his first start at right tackle last week and received praise from teammates and coaches. Haeg is a good run blocker and brings a physical element the Steelers have been searching for since the offseason. Banner offers a similar skillset but can’t touch Haeg’s experience, a vet with 39 career starts. Banner has started just two NFL games, only one of those coming as an offensive tackle (the other coming as a tackle-eligible). Chukwuma Okorafor, who has predominantly served as the team’s right tackle dating back to last season, is also healthy this week after missing last Sunday with a concussion.
For Banner, it’s right tackle or bust. While most of the Steelers’ linemen have versatility, Klemm said Banner’s home is on the right side.
“Zach can compete anywhere we put them at, but I don’t see Zach as the left tackle.”
Should Banner become the right tackle, or even if Haeg stays there, the Steelers will have a decision to make over on the left side. Either sticking with rookie Dan Moore Jr, who has taken his lumps but not been terrible, or to put Okorafor there, which was the Steelers’ plan until Banner suffered a setback.