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2021 South Side Questions: Can Zach Banner Establish A Role Amid OL Injuries?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is underway, and they are hoping for a better outcome in comparison to last season. After starting out 11-0, they finished the year 1-4 in the regular season, and then lost in the Wildcard Round to the Cleveland Browns, ignited by a 0-28 first quarter.

They have lost a large number of key players in the offseason, like Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, but they’ve also made significant additions as the months have gone on, notably Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Joe Schobert, and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also added Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr., all of whom are starting.

There isn’t much left to do but to play the games at this point. Even if they play them poorly. They still have a lot to figure out, though, such as what Matt Canada’s offense is going to look like in any given week, or how the new-look secondary and offensive line is going to play.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: Can Zach Banner establish a role while Kevin Dotson is on the Reserve/Injured List?

Zach Banner had, for the most part, been a healthy scratch since being activated from the Reserve/Injured List in Week 6. He did dress last week, over interior reserve B.J. Finney, but did not play on offense. He played three snaps on special teams, but only because of Kevin Dotson getting hurt, Banner taking over his role.

He continued to play that role on special teams on Sunday. But he also played one snap, on offense, at the goal line. That would be the one-yard Najee Harris touchdown leap, at the 11:38 mark in the fourth quarter. He did not play another snap.

That is a very niche situation, first and goal at the one, so similar circumstances are not going to come up very often. But the Steelers did play him significantly in the tackle-eligible role in 2019. It’s obvious at this point they’re not going to plug him into the starting lineup, but it’s possible they will continue to dress him.

Dotson being on the Reserve/Injured List for at least the next two games basically guarantees that, and last week may be an indication that that was already their plan. Joe Haeg has played guard the past two weeks, possibly establishing himself as the top backup there now. Plus, we don’t know what J.C. Hassenauer’s status is right now, either.

So, it may well be the case that Banner will get a helmet on a weekly basis from now on. And maybe he’ll even replace Dotson on special teams as the right ‘guard’ on the field goal unit. But will he be a contributor for more than one or two snaps a game offensively?

With Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry as capable blocking tight ends, it doesn’t seem overwhelmingly likely that they would use him as they did two years ago, though they could consider it as an asset to getting more push in the run game, which (spoiler alert) has been lacking.

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