The Pittsburgh Steelers face a ridiculous amount of free agents this offseason, and no position group will be hit as hard as the offensive line. Alejandro Villanueva, Jerald Hawkins and Matt Feiler will be Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs) and Maurkice Pouncey just called it a career. Do the math, and Chukwuma Okorafor is the only tackle on the Steelers’ roster with actual game experience.
While the fan base rattles off names of tackles about to enter the 2021 NFL Draft, you have to wonder if there is an answer at tackle for the Steelers staring them straight in the face. A player many have forgotten about after his ACL injury in Week 1.
That would be Zach Banner.
Banner is set to become an UFA this offseason as well, but in an interview with Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, Banner talked about his injury, and more importantly, the Steelers’ plan for him at tackle.
But first, Banner’s thoughts after he tore his ACL vs. the New York Giants on Monday Night Football in Week 1.
“I was like there is nothing good that can come out of this,” Banner said. “They don’t lie, the people here don’t lie to the players and they keep it real. They told me that isn’t a setback at all. This is just an unfortunate situation. That’s what it was.”
Shortly after the season, when players were going through their exit interviews, Banner took to his verified Twitter page with a simple message.
Best exit interview ever... Back to work...— Zach Banner (@ZBNFL) January 14, 2021
So, what was said in that interview?
“Coach (Mike Tomlin) told me in my exit interview that he’s not worried about showing up to camp in shape and that he didn’t think that this injury is going to hold me back. Having the support, I can’t complain about anything. I just have to work. It would be whining if I said anything else.”
So, what does this mean for Banner’s future in Pittsburgh? Will he be signing another low risk, high upside deal with the Steelers? Only Banner and his agent know exactly what the plan is, but he certainly does have a plan.
“I had a conversation with my agent, and we will keep that on the hush-hush right now, but yes, I am betting on myself again some way, somehow,” Banner said.
Coming full circle, are Steelers fans overlooking Banner to help round out the tackle position. With Villanueva likely gone, could Banner fill that role? Or, could Chuks Okorafor slide from right tackle to left tackle, with Banner taking over at the role he won prior to the 2020 season?
Either way, according to Banner, Mike Tomlin has big plans for him next season.
“Coach T looked at me and said, ‘You are my answer for 2021, so I need you to focus on your knee, don’t worry about anything else.’ That was the best thing that I could’ve heard,” Banner said.
Banner’s comments weren’t just on Mike Tomlin, the Steelers organization or his work ethic. No, he also had some thoughts on Adrian Klemm being named the Steelers’ new offensive line coach after Shaun Sarrett’s contract wasn’t renewed.
“Love it, love it, absolutely love it,” Banner said. “Look at my development. It’s him. We have to detach him from the things that were going on because that wasn’t his job. His job was to be in the room, draw cards and develop guys. He is the person who is cussing us out because we aren’t savage enough. He is the one who brings the mentality, the physicality. You saw me during camp wanting to finish. That’s him in my ear. Imagine if that’s the entire offensive line unit.”
After reading that, you can feel Banner has a not-so-subtle confidence in the offense, and mainly the offensive line, entering 2021.
“I feel like with the new offense and the new offensive style, that’s the best thing going for us in 2021,” Banner said. “The right people and right mentality, and we can turn this around.”
The fan base might not agree with Banner, but you can always appreciate the positivity. Like it or not, Banner looks to be a piece of the Steelers’ puzzle in 2021. Now the question is where, and how much will it cost?
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the new league year, NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.