In his regularly scheduled time with the Pittsburgh media on Wednesday, Ben Roethlisberger was asked a variety of questions ranging from the upcoming game with the Titans to the quarterback position overall in the NFL. One particular question Roethlisberger was asked was about his offensive line and how they are coming together as a group, specifically right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor who turned in a solid performance starting consecutive games for the first time in his career.
“I’ve always believed in him,” Roethlisberger confessed. “I knew coming into the season that it was a really good battle between him and Banner. In my opinion, you couldn’t go wrong.”
Rothlisberger is reiterating a statement many in the Pittsburgh Steelers organization have made throughout the preseason and the month of September. The Steelers having to turn to Chu’s Okorafor at right tackle after Zach Banner went down in Week 1 with a season-ending ACL injury was not a large area for concern. Yes, Banner won the job over Okorafor heading into Week 1, but as many with in the organization had stated, it was more of an issue of Banner’s fantastic performance through training camp more than any deficiencies with Okorafor.
Roethlisberger went on to talk about the battle for right tackle this offseason.
“I think both of them are great players that put a lot of work in,” Roethlisberger continued. “We’ve seen Chuks in the past play, whether it’s being an extra tight end reporting or playing tackle.”
Part of the reason the Steelers entered training camp moving Matt Feiler from right tackle to left guard and had the battle ensue between Banner and Okorafor was because both players had experience playing for the Steelers. Okorafor had started four games for the Steelers over his career, two of which were specifically at right tackle. In 2019, when the Steelers chose to move Matt Feiler two left guard against the Los Angeles Rams in order to face Aaron Donald, it was Okorafor and not Banner who got to start at right tackle.
But Zach Banner also had his own experience coming into camp. Beloved by many in Steelers’ Nation for when he reported as eligible in the Steelers jumbo package, Banner had established himself as a “road grader” when it came to the Steelers run game.
Once banner was placed on the Reserve/Injured List for the 2020 season, the right tackle position was no longer to be questioned in the Steelers’ mind. It was Okorafor’s from that point on.
Roethlisberger not only showed confidence in Okorafor, he believes his teammates along the offensive line have the same confidence in him as well.
“We, and I specifically, have a lot of confidence in him, and the rest of the guys up front do too because they have to believe in each other because you’re working so closely with that guy next to you. To have Dave (DeCastro) back, an All-Pro, I know that helps Chuks. It makes Pouncey feel better. I feel better with it. I think that group is just continuing to get better.”
In one way the offensive line has improved in 2020 has been an increase in rushing totals for the Steelers so far this season. Finishing ranked 29th and 2019, The Steelers are currently in the top 10 in the NFL. While this is not all necessarily due to the offensive line, they definitely are a large contributing factor.
Additionally, the Steelers are in the top 10 in fewest sacks surrendered so far in the 2020 season, much like they were in 2019.
Chukwuma Okorafor has now been given a great opportunity to showcase his talents for the 2020 season. The former third-round draft pick out of Western Michigan, who has battled some injuries in the past, can now settle in and focus on the job at hand of making the Pittsburgh Steelers the best they can possibly be this season. And after going toe to toe with the Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt and coming out on the better end of the match up, he’s definitely started off in the right direction.