Just last week, I was listening to sports talk radio, when an older gentleman called to talk about “Malcom.”
In case you’re wondering who “Malcom” was, he was actually referring to Penguins star center, Evgeni “Geno” Malkin. I had to chuckle when I heard this guy repeatedly mispronounce Malkin’s name, because he’s been playing center for the Penguins even longer than Ben Roethlisberger has been playing quarterback for the Steelers (speaking of a player whose name fans can’t seem to pronounce correctly even after all these years).
Anyway, I started this article with that little nugget because I think it segues nicely into talking about the Steelers newest offensive tackle protege, Chukwuma Okorafor, their third round-round pick out of Western Michigan in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Like a lot of smug Steelers fans/writers, I quickly joked that Okorafor’s entire name would be one my fellow yinzers would mangle for the next 10 years (hopefully), before karma intervened and I tried writing about his talents for our good friend over at Steel Curtain Rising.
Let’s just say it was an exercise in frustration, one that included various edits and swear words (verbalized, not written).
Speaking of fellow yinzers, general manager Kevin Colbert was on with Mark Madden, Monday afternoon, talking about the Steelers draft, and when it came time to discuss the Okorafor selection, let’s just say Kevin had a bit of trouble spitting his name out before finally giving in and saying his nickname is actually “Chuks.”
For the yinzers out there who feel as if they’re being targeted, you should know ”Chuks” is the first name spelling on Okorafor’s NFL.com draft profile (even the national experts are taking short-cuts in spelling his name).
Anyway, enough about yinzers spelling and pronouncing stuff (for now). When I researched Okorafor’s history, the first thing I was impressed with was that his family immigrated to this country from Botswana in 2010, which obviously meant he had very little (if any) knowledge of American football when he arrived as a pre-teen.
And when I read that Okorafor was a much sought-after high school recruit and that he went on to be named to the All-Mac Team in both his junior and senior seasons at Western Michigan, I was impressed.
At 6-6 and 320 and, according to one video breakdown I studied post-draft, possessing “lightning quick feet for a left tackle,” Okorafor comes equipped with the measurables most scouts and coaches are looking for in their left tackles--and even the good ones don’t always come equipped with those quick feet.
But then I read about Okorafor’s struggles with technique and balance, his inability to diagnose certain things while zone blocking and, the sin of sins for any football player, his lack of aggressiveness, and it gave me pause.
As for the nuts and bolts of his position, if there’s one man on this entire planet who can strip away Okorafor’s flaws and turn him into a refined left tackle, it’s Steelers offensive line coach, Mike Munchak.
We’ve seen it with Marcus Gilbert, B.J. Finney, Chris Hubbard and, perhaps most notably, college tight end Alejandro Villanueva.
What makes you think we can’t see it with a kid who probably didn’t know his current employer (I’m talking about the entire NFL) even existed a decade ago?
In my opinion, the fact that Okorafor’s been able to achieve so much so fast indicates great intelligence, and if there’s one thing that trumps physicality, it’s intelligence.
I mean, when you’re as big and fast as Okorafor, the physicality kind of takes care of itself, which means I could care less about him transforming from “big and nice” to “big and nasty,” as per his draft profile.
Maybe that’s because I subscribe to the Chuck Noll theory of motivation, where it’s actually fostered by “helping someone get the job done,” and not from some fire and brimstone bs.
Again, Okorafor will be learning from the very best in the business, and if he can perfect his technique and the art of consistently keeping pass-rushers at bay (even if it’s in the nicest, gentlest way possible), the Steelers could have themselves an elite left tackle for the next decade or so.
Maybe by then, Steelers fans will learn how to spell and say Chukwuma Okorafor.
Maybe Kevin Colbert will, too.