Steelers News

Chukwuma Okorafor Wants To Be Part Of Post-Roethlisberger Change, Looking To ‘Lead Better’

He may not have ever been to Milan or Minsk, but Chukwuma Okorafor has certainly been on a long journey. The 24-year-old is Nigerian-born, later living in Botswana, before his family immigrated to the Detroit area in 2010. It was upon arriving in the United States half a life ago that he learned about American football, and began to pick up the sport.

He did not even play tackle until his junior year in high school, having instead quickly adapted to the role of punter due to his interest and background in soccer. After two years in high school playing the position, he developed into a three-year starting tackle for Western Michigan.

From there, he was drafted in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and, four years later, he has signed a robust three-year, $29.25 million contract, the richest commitment the team has actually ever made for a tackle in their history.

And he understands that comes with certain obligations and expectations, as well as changes in his role as the team around him responds to change. But one thing remains consistent, and that is the presence of head coach Mike Tomlin.

When asked about why he wanted to stay in Pittsburgh after signing, he told Teresa Varley for the Steelers’ website, “I think just being coached by Mike Tomlin and knowing everything he is doing, and what there could be after Ben [Roethlisberger]”.

Roethlisberger, of course, has been the Steelers’ starting quarterback for the last 18 seasons, which necessarily includes Okorafor’s four years here, and the past two seasons during which he has played full-time starting snaps. But he’s now retired, and the team is reportedly signing Mitchell Trubisky while looking toward the draft.

“It will be different not having Ben around, but it’s also a change that was eventually going to happen. I want to be a part of the change”, Okorafor said about moving into the next stage of the Steelers’ offense, which will, perhaps, center around his group—the offensive line—and the running game with Najee Harris at running back.

This was likely Tomlin’s vision for the post-Roethlisberger era, one of the reasons he wanted to bring in Harris last year through the draft. Now the next step is shoring up the offensive line. They drafted two linemen last year, adding another in free agency. Thus far, they have locked in Okorafor and added an interior offensive line starter through free agency, with the draft still to come.

Now the longest-tenured member of the offensive line room—which includes projected starters Dan Moore Jr. and Kendrick Green heading into year two, and Kevin Dotson heading into year three—he knows it’s on him to be a bigger part of how things operate.

“I feel like at this point I don’t really have a choice”, he told Varley about being more of a leader and taking on a more vocal role. “I think that is something I have to do. I have had a little bit of a talk with Coach Tomlin. I think that is going to be my next role, how to lead better”.

While he started 16 games, including the postseason, in 2020, this past season was the first year in which Okorafor was projected to be a starter. Even that didn’t quite go to plan, as he was supposed to start at left tackle, before an injury setback to projected right tackle Zach Banner prompted a late change. He would start 17 games at right tackle, helping to parlay that into this new windfall for his family.

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