The Pittsburgh Steelers are apparently busy turning over all proverbial stones to find the best combination of players on offense and defense following their Week 14 Thursday night road loss to the Minnesota Vikings. That stone overturning process aside isn’t likely to result in tackle Zach Banner getting an opportunity to start, however.
On Tuesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference, and during it he was asked about Banner possibly being an option to receive more playing time moving forward. In short, Tomlin was asked if Banner’s health has been a reason why he’s yet to receive more of an opportunity, or if the decision has been mainly based on a coaching decision.
“At times it’s been physical,” Tomlin said of Banner on Tuesday. “He’s proven his health. And so more than anything, it’s cohesion and opportunity. You know, we’ve sustained a lot in the interior portions of our line and less so at tackle. And he’s a tackle and tackle only. I think we’ve been through maybe four or five left guards specifically. That’s not a position that he plays.”
Banner is indeed only tackle capable, and that’s been the case since he came out of USC. As of right now, the Steelers seem more than comfortable with the play of starting tackles Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor, especially over the course of the last few weeks. That means that Banner, who missed the first five weeks of the regular season on the Reserve/Injured list, is easily the odd man out right now.
Banner is also more of a right tackle than he is a left tackle, so with Joe Haeg now back off the Reserve/COVID-19 list, Banner might just find himself back below the more experienced offensive lineman moving forward into the final four weeks of the regular season.
Banner’s best chance at seeing the field outside of injury might be snaps on offense as a tackle eligible. That said, the Steelers only really utilize tackles as eligible in short yardage or goal-to-go scenarios this season.
Should Banner, who has played all of four offensive snaps this season, wind up not playing much in the final four games of the season, it will set up an interesting offseason decision when it comes to his 2022 status. Why? Because Banner is set to earn a base salary of $5 million in 2022 as part of the two-year, $9.5 million contract he signed back in March.
Here’s something else that many people might not realize. Since being selected in the fourth-round (137th overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts, Banner, who has played a total of 306 offensive snaps to date, has only played 86 snaps at tackle, with most of those coming at right tackle. 59 of those snaps came in Week 1 of the 2020 season. That’s the game that Banner suffered his season ending knee injury in. In short, Banner has yet to play the equivalent of two full games at tackle since entering the NFL.