Another in a position-by-position series in advance of the start of free agency on March 16.
OFFENSIVE TACKLES (5)
Zach Banner, Chaz Green, Joe Haeg, Dan Moore Jr., Chuks Okorafor
(Free Agent Scorecard: 1 unrestricted – Chuks Okorafor)
A LAST LOOK AT 2021
This was the way it was supposed to work:
Zach Banner, who had torn an ACL in the 2020 regular season opener against the New York Giants, would start at right tackle and Chuks Okorafor would be the starting left tackle. The Steelers had re-signed Banner to a two-year contract to prevent him from leaving as an unrestricted free agent, and almost three full years since signing him off the street at the end of a training camp at Saint Vincent College it was time to see whether this former fourth-round draft pick of the Colts was ready to be more than a curiosity as an extra blocker in running formations. Okorafor, the team's third-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. was believed to have been out of position as the starting right tackle in 2020, but Alejandro Villanueva's expiring contract convinced the Steelers to give Okorafor a chance to be a full-time starter at the position they had in mind when they had made him a developmental selection as a 20-year-old.
But as so often happens, real life intervened and plans had to be changed.
Banner was able to play in only one preseason game in 2021, then he missed some practice after that lone appearance. Instead of going to right tackle, Banner went on the injured reserve list where he stayed until mid-November. By the time the 2021 season ended with the Wild Card Round loss to the Chiefs in Kansas City, Banner had played more special teams snaps than offensive snaps, 30-5. Factoring in expectations, it was a lost year.
What also became apparent during the summer was that rookie Dan Moore Jr. could not play right tackle at an NFL regular season level. He showed some promise at left tackle, and so the decision was made to flip Okorafor back to right tackle and try to make Moore the best rookie left tackle he could be.
Once the Steelers settled on Moore at left tackle and Okorafor at right tackle, that's pretty much the way things remained. Both players were durable enough to start 16 of the 17 regular season games plus the Wild Card Round game vs. the Chiefs. Moore played 1,148 offensive snaps in total as a rookie; Okorafor played 1,134 snaps.
ONE STAT THAT STANDS OUT
Neither Chuck Noll nor Bill Cowher ever went through a regular season as the Steelers head coach where the primary starter at left tackle was a rookie. Rookie Dan Moore Jr., the 128th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, started 16 of 17 regular season games in 2021 for Coach Mike Tomlin.
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2022
The Steelers offense didn't perform consistently well at any stage of the 2021 season, and the status quo is not an option. The offensive line in particular deserves to be targeted as an area needing work. It will start with a new coach, where Pat Meyer takes over for Adrian Klemm, who left for a job at the University of Oregon.
It would be no surprise, if in addition to the new position coach, there are two-or-more new faces added to the group of offensive tackles through the signing of veteran free agents and/or the expenditure of premium draft picks. And should Okorafor find a situation he likes better via unrestricted free agency, that would ratchet up the urgency for such moves. In Moore, though, it appears the team at least has something it can work with at left tackle.
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