The Pittsburgh Steelers knew they would likely be losing Alejandro Villanueva this offseason via free agency, and the organization felt they had an emergency plan already in place. That plan was to re-sign Zach Banner.
Banner had already gambled on himself heading into 2020 season, won the right tackle job vs. Chukwuma Okorafor, only to tear his ACL in the Steelers’ Week 1 game at MetLife Stadium vs. the New York Giants. Nonetheless, this offseason the Steelers rewarded Banner with a two-year contract, but it came with a very specific stipulation.
Time to up your game, in all facets.
“Coach (Mike) Tomlin has asked me to step up my game in all facets of my career, on and off the field,” Banner said to the media following Thursday’s Organized Team Activities (OTAs) workouts.
“I’m a like a dog on a leash right now. They keep pulling back and pulling back, and one thing you’re not going to have to tell me is to give effort and be there. (Taking part in OTAs) is not only for those other guys (on the offensive line) and to be around the team, it’s to get the visual reps for myself because I’m not perfect and we all need to get better every day. At the same time it’s a good thing for myself to get through this (rehabilitation) mentally. Them pulling at the leash bugs me, because I feel good, feeling better every day.”
The Steelers wisely are limiting Banner in the early phases of his rehabilitation process. The one thing the Steelers don’t want to do is put too much on Banner early in the offseason, all to keep Banner as healthy as possible.
“If we get to camp and they pull (me out for) a day, pull (me out for) a rep, it’s out of protection, and I have to get that in my head at this early stage,” said Banner. “I’m trying to lead by example, but I’m also trying to motivate myself by my actions every day.”
Banner isn’t alone in his long road to recovery. He and inside linebacker Devin Bush are both recovering from torn ACLs, and are expected to not just return to full health, but to be huge contributors to the 2021 regular season and beyond.
As for both Banner and Bush, all signs point to a full recovery well before the start of training camp this summer, and the Steelers will need them back and better than ever. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.