The Pittsburgh Steelers surely know by now what their plans are. Perhaps the beat writers get a sense of it as well. But the fans certainly don’t. So we’ll all have to wait and see exactly what happens when it comes to Zach Banner, the offensive tackle who was activated from the Reserve/Injured List before the bye week, but was inactive for the one game for which he was a member of the 53-man roster.
Originally projected to be a starter, a setback in his recovery from a torn ACL forced him to be placed on the reserve list, and the Steelers had to tweak the lineup. Now it’s unclear whether or not he’s going to find his way back there. But if he doesn’t, could he still contribute as a tackle-eligible, as he did in 2019?
“I think that’s certainly on the table as we continue to move forward”, offensive coordinator Matt Canada offered on Thursday, via transcript. “We’re hopefully continuing to get him back to full strength. Full strength clearance from the medical people isn’t the same as ‘full strength, 100 percent, I feel great doing everything I do, and I have confidence.’ He’s coming off a major surgery. You guys have seen him practice. He’s practicing more and more, and we’re excited he’s back”.
If Banner does not start, then Chukwuma Okorafor will remain there. He started 16 games at right tackle in 2020 after Banner, who won the starting job in training camp in 2020, started the season opener and then suffered his knee injury. He has been starting at right tackle this year, as well, minus one game that he missed due to a concussion.
Opposite him is Dan Moore Jr., a rookie fourth-round pick out of Texas A&M. He has been far from perfect, and has been perhaps a better run blocker than pass protector. A recent graph that I saw actually had him with among the lowest pass-blocking win rates of all left tackles. He could take a seat if Banner were put back into the lineup, with Okorafor moving to the left as originally planned.
One way or another, the Steelers are welcoming him back onto the field. He’s been around the team, of course, but he’s been rehabbing. And he brings a different energy on the practice field, something quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has noticed.
“Zach’s one of the leaders of that group. He’s a guy who’s got experience. He brings passion and fire”, he said on Wednesday. “For a lineman, sometimes the heart that you bring can be stronger than your talent. With a guy that’s got all kinds of heart and passion and fire for this team and for protecting the quarterback, it’s never a bad thing to have”.
For many fans, though, it’s sort of put-up-or-shut-up time. If Banner had his way, of course, he would be making his 23rd straight start on Sunday. He’s been robbed of almost a year and a half’s worth of playing time due to this knee injury. So I don’t think anybody is more eager for him to shut up about recovering from his knee injury and about what he hopes to do, and to start actually doing it.