In an exclusive interview last week with Behind The Steel Curtain, Steelers offensive tackle Zach Banner opened up about a variety of topics pertaining to his NFL career and things going on with the Pittsburgh Steelers. When asked about the upcoming position battle in training camp for the starting right tackle position, Banner stated the move of Matt Feiler to left guard to start the 2020 NFL season was something players had already expected.
“To be honest with you guys, it’s something that we already kind of knew,” Banner confessed. “It’s just you’ve got to wait for the head coach to announce it. Of course, did we expect him to announce it? No. Did he put a crapload of pressure on the two of us? Yes.”
While many of the Pittsburgh media were discussing the issue of whether Feiler should be moved away from a position where he played strongly in 2019, it seems the Steelers may have always been looking to move Feiler back to the position where he entered the NFL. With the move, Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor look to be battling it out for the starting position. While this sort of competition may seem cutthroat to those on the outside, Banner is not concerned it will affect the closeness of the two players.
“If you guys have done your research, you guys will know that Chuki and I—I call him Chuki, that’s my guy Chuks. He’d be pissed if I called him Chuki in public, but I don’t care. We’re friends. So it’s kind of weird being best friends with somebody on the team that you’re competing for a spot. But in your guys’ mind maybe, but in ours it’s like so natural because we’ve been doing that in such a sort of way last year.”
Banner went on to talk about their relationship through last season as they competed for playing time, especially when it came to someone other than Matt Feiler getting the start in Week 10.
“We were both expected to be the swing tackle, and to fill in for the big tight end job and that’s why when it got to the Rams week everybody who looked into it so damn much were like. ‘Oh Banner might not be ready for tackle because Chuks started.’”
When the Steelers made the decision to move Matt Feiler to left guard in order to have a better matchup against Aaron Donald when the Los Angeles Rams came to Heinz Field in Week 10, there were many who looked into Okorafor getting the start over Banner as a telltale sign of what the Steelers really thought of both tackles. Instead, Banner discussed how the decision to start Okorafor against the Rams made a lot of sense.
“I think Coach T really meant what he said,” Banner stated, referring to Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “It was just a one week thing. He asked Chucks to step up. He did step up and he filled in really, really well at the right tackle position.”
Had the Steelers needed a longer-term solution for the right tackle position in 2019, it’s hard to say who would have been the choice. As for 2020, it seems both tackles are working towards helping the team in either role they could be asked while continuing to look to the future of the Steelers offensive line.
“The bottom line is we have both had conversations to where we hope we’re both on the field at the same time in the future as Steelers,” Banner said. “That’s not to undermine Al. That’s not to undermine anybody else on the offensive line. But with somebody who’s as experienced as Al, and we understand at some point retirement is coming. I’m not saying that it’s soon; I don’t want you guys saying, ‘oh, is this a hint?’ I’m trying to be as honest as I can with you guys. We know and we hope that we’re playing when Al retires. So when that happens, both of us have an opportunity to be on the field at the same time. So that’s the type of positivity that we keep with this and the bottom line is whoever ‘loses’ is going to be the jumbo tight end so it’s not like anybody’s competing for a game check this year. We’re competing for certain spots and how we can contribute to the team.”
Most importantly, through the competition Banner continued to emphasize keeping things positive at all times.
“So that’s our type of positive mindset,” Banner explained. “We’re both competitive. We both want it. But you’ve got to keep the room positive. You can’t hate on each other. We’re literally stepping out the other day together, you know enjoying a drink and some dinner. We hang out almost every day.”
Whether or not it’s at right tackle or jumbo tight end, Zach Banner looks to see the playing field again in 2020 for the Pittsburgh Steelers. As many can see, his personality is infectious and has found him a beloved place with many Steelers fans. But as delightful as it is to see Zach being his fun-loving self, seeing him succeed on the football field is the ultimate goal for the 2020 season.
The full interview with Zach Banner, in either audio or video form, can be seen HERE.