The Pittsburgh Steelers had a change to their starting offensive line before the season even started when they had to place Zach Banner on the Reserve/Injured List. After starting at right tackle in the third preseason game, he seemed to have some sort of setback, but he resumed practicing last week, and should be back soon.
Though he was slated to start at left tackle this year, the Steelers moved Chukwuma Okorafor back to the right side to replace Banner. Okorafor started 16 games last season after Banner tore his ACL in the 2020 season opener. But he missed Sunday’s game with a concussion, and was replaced by Joe Haeg.
A veteran journeyman, Haeg was their ‘big’ March free agent signing, agreeing to a two-year, $4 million deal. They since added a couple of more expensive free agents, but that was what they could swing at the time. And truth be told, he generally held his own, much to the pleasure of his teammates, including right guard Trai Turner.
“Definitely was happy that Joe was able to come in when his number was called this weekend”, he told reporters yesterday. “I feel like he stepped up and did everything that he was supposed to do. I think that’s the mentality of the room. And that’s the mentality in the league. No one knows when their number’s gonna be called, but you’ve got to be prepared when your number is called. Joe was, so I was happy that he had a solid game”.
Haeg was a fifth-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 2015. He started 29 games over the span of his first two season, and 35 in his first three, finishing out his rookie contract with the team that drafted him. He played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020, winning a Super Bowl ring, but as a swing tackle.
It’s not clear who will be where this week. Banner is working his way back, and Okorafor should (or could, at least) clear the concussion protocols. If the Steelers have all three options on the table, who will be the one to start? Has Haeg put himself in that conversation?
Whoever ends up playing there, the bottom line is that the Steelers need to get better play, not just from the right tackle position, but from the offensive line as a whole, especially because the rest of this offense doesn’t have the means of creating without better line play. We’ve seen that for the past four weeks. Things have to get better.