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Goal is much bigger than being 'eligible'

They were words that became commonplace during the Steelers 2019 season.

"No. 72 has reported as an eligible receiver."

Fans would erupt in cheers when they heard it, whether it was announced once or 10 times a game.

Zach Banner couldn't help but smile when he heard the reaction.

"I enjoyed it," said Banner. "The relationship with the fans is something that I always had as a factor of my game. I always stopped to sign autographs, say hi. I joke with people. I have fun with the fans. I really enjoyed the fun with them."

There was something else he enjoyed more, though.

Simply being on the field for meaningful snaps.

"It was just fun to be on the field. I had 217 snaps. It's the most I have played in the NFL so far," said Banner. "Having an impact for a team, it satisfied my sense of hunger to get on the field and it made me hungrier to want more.

"I want to start. That is a dream of mine now. As a person, a human being, you have to be able to evaluate yourself in your career, set goals, set attainable goals, and keep working when you reach goals. I did that first step, now I am setting new goals."

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Banner, who with the start of training camp is entering his fourth NFL season and third with the Steelers, admits that desire to start got lost along the way with the ups and downs he went through his rookie year with the Cleveland Browns, a year that had him actually say he lost his 'passion to have fun in football.' But after two seasons in the black and gold, his outlook is completely different.

"When you come into the league you always want to set the bar for yourself to what you think is attainable," said Banner. "The level of play I was at when I was coming out of college was projected to be a starter in the National Football League. Those goals were set. When I got to the league things set me back. I had to reevaluate that and set new goals when I got here. In terms of trying to have a role and an impact on this team, this offense, I did that this year. The new goal is to be a starter.

"I am going to be real. I think if the Steelers were the ones I was with from the start, with the atmosphere, with what Coach (Mike) Tomlin brings, it would be different. The coaches on the staff, the offensive line, the veterans, I know for a fact if I was drafted here, a lot of stuff would be avoided because of the leadership I have been around. It has helped to shape me. It has been able to mold who I am in terms of being an enforcer on the offensive line and a guy that moves people routinely.

"That type of mentality, I had it before because I had a certain personal pride before in high school and college being dominant, how to use my size and take advantage of being bigger than most people. That type of mentality really didn't happen in the NFL until I got here."

While Banner was becoming a cult hero of sorts with Steelers fans, something that continued this offseason with his fun, engaging, playful manner that included a remake of the video for 'What a Feeling,' from the movie Flashdance that was filmed in Pittsburgh, he was doing something else. He was earning the respect of his teammates. No longer was he just the guy everyone thought of as the fun guy who likes to joke around. He had become a key part of the offensive line, someone who when his number was called, answered big time.

"That is something you have to earn," said Banner. "You can't ask for it. You want it. But people have seen the film, they have seen the tape, they have seen the effort and how much I want to be here and the passion I have to play in the NFL.

"I think that goes from now being like it's funny, to now it's funny to see him whooping (butt). That feels great. That type of support, that is what ultimately motivates you in the offseason to keep going. Don't get me wrong, it has to be you first. Knowing yourself and understanding yourself. I know for a fact I am a routine type of guy. When I wake up in the morning, I get my caffeine, I have my eggs and veggies. Staying in routine is the best thing I can do."

The standard is set now in the NFL for me. People know I can do this. People know I can come in and help, especially in terms of the run game, protecting the quarterback. Can he step up now and take a starting role?"

That is a good question. Can he?

"Yes. I have to prove it though," said Banner. "I have to prove it with my actions. Coming in for the draft process as a rookie people saw my character, the person I am off the field. People used to question if I want to be a football player. Are you kidding me? I feel like sometimes people write critiques just to write them, to put a con on the pro and con side. Can he control his weight? Also does he really love football that much.

"I had to prove them wrong. I think I did. That being said I still have to work. I have to find a balance. I already have ideas. I am excited."

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