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2021 South Side Questions: Why Was Zach Banner Inactive Yesterday?

Zach Banner camp

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: Why was Zach Banner a scratch for yesterday’s game?

People love to make jokes about Zach Banner based on the ratio of interviews he’s given to starts he’s made, which admittedly is indeed substantial in favor of the talking over the proverbial ‘walking’. But he’s also a guy who’s had a hard time walking for the past year after suffering a severe knee injury last September.

Banner won the starting right tackle job in training camp last year before tearing his ACL in the opener. He has not dressed for a game since, having been inactive for the two games since he’s been activated from the Reserve/Injured List.

But is he a ‘healthy’ scratch? I go back to what Matt Canada said last week when he asked if the tackle-eligible role was on the table for him, something that he did extensively in 2019:

“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 said. “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”.

Yesterday’s game, with tight end Eric Ebron down, was a golden opportunity for the Steelers to give him a helmet and ease him back in, letting him play as a tackle-eligible for a handful of snaps. They neglected to do this, dressing all four running backs instead.

What were the factors that went into this decision, and how much does it have to do with Banner potentially still working his way into football shape? Is he simply not going to dress this year unless due to injury, with Joe Haeg the more flexible swing tackle?

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