Zach Banner is healthy. But he isn’t playing. Speaking during his Tuesday press conference, Mike Tomlin explained how Banner can get back on the field.
“He needs to keep doing what he’s doing,” Tomlin said via the Steelers’ YouTube channel today. “He’s healthy. He’s been given clearance from a health standpoint. He needs to knock the dust or the rust off and prove that he’s a viable guy that can help us win a game. That’s done with repetitions and practice and in competitive circumstances. And we’ll keep doing that. We’ll see where the road leads us this week.”
Banner was activated off IR prior to the team’s Week 6 game against the Seattle Seahawks. But he was an inactive for that game, just as he was Sunday versus Cleveland, despite having the benefit of the bye and a full week of practice. Banner remained in street clothes despite the Steelers going into the game with just two healthy tight ends. Instead, the team chose to dress four running backs: Najee Harris, Anthony McFarland, Kalen Ballage, and Benny Snell. The first three were for offensive value, they all touched the ball Sunday, with Snell active for special teams value.
Banner’s lack of versatility is undoubtedly hurting his odds of being active on gameday. Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm admitted Banner can really only play right tackle in the NFL. He’s dabbled on the left side before in college and in the preseason, but Pittsburgh views him as a right tackle only. That’s causing him to lose out to Joe Haeg, capable of playing both tackle spots, increasing his gameday value.
The Steelers also haven’t shown any desire to use the tackle-eligible package Banner became well-known for in 2019. Under new OC Matt Canada, I haven’t witnessed the Steelers do it once in training camp, preseason, or regular season action. Even if the team did, Haeg could be used in that role, doing so in past years.
Banner hasn’t played a regular season snap since Week 1 of last year, tearing his ACL in the opener against the New York Giants. He rehabbed and got healthy enough to practice and play in one preseason game this summer, suiting up against the Detroit Lions, but he suffered a setback and was placed on IR before Week 1 this year.
With Pittsburgh dressing only eight offensive linemen on gameday and the starting five playing much better, it’s hard to see Banner’s circumstances changing unless there’s also a change (likely an injury) to someone in front of him.