Believe it or not, but the Pittsburgh Steelers might actually be getting some injury help coming their way in the coming weeks. As most fans know by now, both Zach Banner (knee) and Anthony McFarland (unknown) are working their way back off Injured Reserve (IR) and are capable of being placed on the 53-man active roster at any point.
In Banner’s case, his return, and insertion in the starting lineup, isn’t as simple as once thought.
When the offensive line was struggling in the early stages of the regular season, Banner’s return was viewed as an elixir which could cure the team’s woes along the offensive line. But after the Week 5 win over the Denver Broncos, one where the line played well and dominated the Denver defensive front, many are wondering what to do with Banner when he returns.
The Steelers have an easy job moving either Banner or McFarland to the active roster due to the season-ending shoulder injury to JuJu Smith-Schuster, but that doesn’t mean either player will be guaranteed to be promoted prior to the Week 6 game vs. the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Night Football.
Head coach Mike Tomlin had this to say about both Banner and McFarland Tuesday during his weekly press conference.
“Some of the IR guys that have been working, guys like Zach Banner, guys like Anthony McFarland, it’s good to have them back out there. We’re still within that 21-day window on those guys, so we’ll evaluate the quality of their play and make a determination whether or not they can be positive contributors to our effort if it’s appropriate.
“If there’s an opportunity there, then we’ll study those possibilities when we get into the week. But as we sit here right now, we’re really just focused on putting together a good plan, seeing who’s available for work tomorrow, and making sure that we position ourselves for good play on Sunday night by having a good practice tomorrow.”
Doesn’t really sound like the Steelers are in a rush to get either player back on the active roster. The Steelers have until next Tuesday before Banner’s 21-day window closes, so if the team decides to wait until the bye week until they activate Banner, they could.
Fans might be confused, considering Banner met with the media prior to the Denver game and deemed himself “ready” to play. Mike Tomlin doesn’t necessarily view that as the team ready to put him out there.
“Ready is not a problem.” Tomlin said Tuesday. “I’m not gonna make a negative out of him perceiving that he’s ready or him being ready. There’s nothing wrong with having more than five capable, ready men. Those are the type of problems that you want to have, and I look forward to the day that we’re managing that.”
But what about continuity on the line? Might the Steelers want to ride their current wave as long as it lasts? Waiting until Banner can logically come into the lineup and make a positive difference? Again, Tomlin wasn’t about to draw a line in the sand on the topic.
“There’s no cookie cutter answer to the question that you asked.” Tomlin said. “I’m not gonna make it a negative to have more than five capable men who are ready and capable of playing winning football for us. It’s not a negative. It’s just not. We’ll manage it. It’ll be a pleasure to manage, to be quite honest with you. I’d rather have six than to have four. We’re excited about getting him back in the fold and having that be a viable option for us, whatever that may mean in terms of management of the group individually and collectively.”
Wednesday Ben Roethlisberger was asked about Banner’s potential return to the lineup, and what it could mean for the collective group. He spoke highly of Banner’s overall game, and what he could bring to a line which could still use some help.
“He’s a guy that’s been here for a while. He’s a guy that has a lot of heart and a lot of fire, passion. Sometimes that’s required when things aren’t going as well.” Roethlisberger said. “We’ve always had that guy that’s got that fire and that passion. I’m not really sure what’s gonna happen in terms of who’s gonna be out there, but having the ability to have a guy out there like that, it’s better to have someone be ready to go than not.”
Banner and McFarland’s returns are imminent, but when they exactly re-join their teammates on the field is anything but certain. It makes sense to have your best five offensive linemen on the field to help your team win, but the other side of the coin is to keep the cohesion which has slowly developed over the course of five games with the current group of linemen.
Maybe waiting until the bye week, when the team can get some extra practices in together, would be the perfect answer to this question. Otherwise, if the offensive line continues to develop a solid rapport with one another, there will never be an easy time to insert Banner into the mix. That is, if he is considered an upgrade over the current crop of linemen the team deploys on a weekly basis.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Seahawks this Sunday night in Week 6 at Heinz Field.