Pittsburgh Steelers rookie OT Dan Moore Jr. has been full of surprises since being selected in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft after an impressive collegiate career at Texas A&M. His selection actually startled me on the third day of the draft, not because of when and where he was selected, but because of his scouting report coming out of Aggies Land. His selection seemed a little redundant to me, with his doppelganger already on the roster.
He was considered a highly skilled projected left tackle with good length, feet, and athleticism. However, most evaluators questioned his motor and intensity. Nothing too surprising actually, as fourth round tackles are fourth round tackles for a reason. What did seem odd to me was the fact the Steelers already had a left tackle on their roster that fit that description in Chukwuma Okorafor, last year's starting RT who was originally drafted with the left side in mind.
I immediately made the same mistake about Moore that I did the year prior with Kevin Dotson. I assumed that Moore was a project and probably wouldn't be asked or able to contribute much this season. You would think I would have learned my lesson last year with Dotson, but obviously not. In my defense, the Steelers coaches and a couple of Steelers defensive standouts have accelerated Moore's learning curve big time.
After making 37 starts on one of the best offensive lines in the SEC for the Aggies, Moore's reputation was more cerebral tactician than battling brawler. That's why I was more than a little surprised to hear that he was involved in a couple of dustups during the first week of camp. Especially when I heard that veteran team leader Cam Heyward was his antagonist in his second camp battle. How dare he raise a hand in anger toward a Steelers patriarch, royalty if you will? Shouldn't he be running out to pick of breakfast for Mr. Heyward, or dropping off his dry cleaning? You know, classic rookie hazing during training camp. Not have the audacity to throw hands with a Steelers legend. Looking back, it was all part of a larger master plan.
New Steelers OL Coach Adrian Klemm scouted Moore in the pre-draft process, and you better believe he didn't mince words when laying out his mission statement to any potential draft prospects. The Steelers offensive line will never be labeled as "soft" under his watch. He wants, no he demands, guys willing to battle for that extra yard at every opportunity. Klemm apparently believed that Moore was willing and able of doing just that. He wasn't wrong.
With Chukwuma Okorafor dealing with an injury early in camp, Moore received valuable snaps with the starting offensive line, at least with the linemen healthy enough to participate. That was the good news. The bad news was he was matched up frequently against the aforementioned Heyward and second year breakout star Alex Highsmith. Actually, mismatched would probably be a more accurate description. Moore was abused regularly, to the surprise of no one.
An unexpected development started to occur leading up to the first preseason game, a game that Moore would be required to start. Moore started to make the daily camp reports for something other than fighting or being abused regularly. He started to improve each day, to the point he was holding his own against his talented and more experienced teammates. He earned the respect of his teammates and coaches by not only surviving his baptism by fire, but thriving from the learning experience.
He followed his strong performance in the HOF preseason game against the Cowboys with another excellent week of work at camp, then went out and played even better against the Philadelphia Eagles. Not only does he look nothing like a inexperienced rookie through the first couple of preseason games, he actually has been easily the best Steelers left tackle thus far at camp and in the preseason games.
This week Adrian Klemm called Moore a "Student of the game" in trying to explain why he hasn't been surprised by Moore's performance or improvement thus far. PFF has him graded as the second highest rookie offensive linemen after the first two preseason games. Oftentimes their grades don't add up, but this one passes the eye test.
Apparently the Steelers hierarchy are true believers in the young man, because they are so confident in his ability to make the roster that they are attempting to teach him to be a swing tackle this season. A swing tackle must have the talent and technique to play both the left or right side if called upon. Rookie tackles are seldom asked or expected to learn both. The NFL adjustment is hard enough for most rookies, so the Steelers must really believe in Moore's abilities.
Moore's performance could throw a unexpected monkey wrench in the Steelers best laid plans. Chukwuma Okorafor is the incumbent starter at left tackle, the position he was originally drafted to play, while Zach Banner is the projected right tackle. Problem is both guys have hardly participated at training camp, with Okorafor making his first start at left tackle against the Eagles. He obviously wasn't close to being 100%, with the regular season rapidly approaching. Even when completely healthy, Okorafor still has to prove he is capable of getting the job done at left tackle, that he has the competitiveness to protect the franchise QB's blindside.
Banner is a larger than life personality, an influencer in the locker room and the community. He was the victim of some tough luck last season, suffering a season ending knee injury in the season opener after just winning the starting RT job during camp. The Steelers are understandably easing him back into live action very slowly, but the clocks ticking. The Steelers are hoping that Banner will be ready Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills, but nothing is written in stone, or even permanent ink, at this point.
The Steelers always have a plan, and Dan Moore figures prominently in the Steelers plan for their offensive line this year. Maybe Moore will be the swing tackle as planned, but he potentially could end up being much more.