The Pittsburgh Steelers activated fifth-year veteran tackle Zach Banner from the Reserve/Injured List late last week after having spent the entirety of the regular season up until that point on the shelf. Despite his activation, however, he was not given a helmet for Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about Banner’s status after practice today, and whether or not his inactive status was a reflection of where he is on the depth chart, or if it was a matter of him not being quite ready to play as he works his way back onto the field from a torn ACL suffered last year.
“He’s in a good position. We’re in a good position”, he said, regarding Banner’s health status. “That’s just something we wanted to look at on the other side of the bye, and that was the decision that was made last week. It has no reflection or bearing on the decision that we’re gonna make in the upcoming weeks”.
Banner was projected to start at right tackle this season, having earned that job in training camp a year ago, even though he went on to suffer a season-ending injury in the opener. Chukwuma Okorafor started in his place for the rest of the season, and has been starting there now.
Rookie Dan Moore Jr. was plugged into the left tackle spot after Banner had a setback in his recovery, previously presumed to be a backup. Okorafor was to play left tackle, but with Moore most comfortable on the left side, and Banner not available, they pushed him back to the right.
Okorafor is the man that Banner beat outright for the right tackle job last season, but the latter simply has not been available since then due to that knee injury. He now appears to be ready to go from a physical standpoint—he said so himself a week or two ago—but now comes the time to make a decision.
Do you mess with the starting lineup, and if so, how? If Banner plays, it will be at right tackle. So does Okorafor become the swing tackle, or do you kick him over to left tackle and sit Moore? The rookie left Sunday’s game with an injury, so it’s not even clear what his current status is.
But the Steelers will now have two work weeks to decided on what combination best suits them moving forward before they have to play again. They’ll also have more time to evaluate the play of their linemen up to this point, particularly Moore and Okorafor.
Banner has been an enigma for many Steelers fans. He’s been here for four years now, and has certainly spoken a whole lot, becoming something of an ambassador for the team. Yet the cold, hard reality is that he only has a few hundred snaps to his name, and just one start, which he was unable to finish due to the injury that has kept him off the field since early September last year.