This is a subject I’ve been contemplating for days. In fact, I even used it as one possible theory when predicting my 53-man roster for an article at Behind The Steel Curtain on Monday as well as Jeff Hartman‘s Let’s Ride podcast.
Is Zach Banner ready to go for Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season?
I have been shaping my thoughts on the subject for quite some time. After winning the right tackle job for 2020 only to get injured towards the end of his very first game, Zach Banner had a long road ahead this past offseason as he recovered from ACL surgery. By all indications, he appeared as if he was good to go. The Steelers even signed him to a new two-year contract starting in 2021. Everything seemed to be coming along in an appropriate manner.
Then as training camp wore on, I started to get slightly uneasy about Zach Banner’s status. Both he and Devin Bush seemed to be “rehab buddies” as they were coming back from the same injury. It was no surprise neither player saw the field in the Hall of Fame Game, but when Week 1 of the preseason rolled around, Bush was on the field while Banner was still on the sidelines.
Even though Zach Banner’s injury occurred five weeks prior to Devin Bush’s, it doesn’t mean that he would be five weeks ahead in the process. Without knowing the exact details of the injury and extent of the surgery, they may not be as exact as some believed.
Additionally, the use of one’s knee is not the same for every person. Being a big person myself, much like Zach Banner, the everyday use and wear on my knee is not the same as someone of a smaller stature. The bottom line is, to line up Zach Banner and Devin Bush exactly might not be the best idea.
Then came Week 2 of the preseason. Steelers’ fans expected to see every starter who was available on the field seeing some action, and Zach Banner was out there with the rest of the Steelers offensive line as well as starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Thinking Roethlisberger could get a quick hook in the game while the line continued to work on some things, it was actually Zach Banner who exited the game one drive before Roethlisberger and only logged 12 snaps.
Still, there wasn’t any huge red flags. The Steelers may have just been easing Banner back into things.
When the final preseason game came around, not only did Banner not see the field, he was one of the players listed by Coach Tomlin in the post game press conference who did not even travel to Carolina but stayed behind in Pittsburgh to continue with treatment.
This was a point where I began to become concerned. My worst fears about the situation started to creep in my mind that Banner, who played well with his limited action this preseason, may either not be ready for a full load of snaps or possibly even had a setback in his lone preseason appearance.
I threw the idea out as part of a crazy way to keep 10 lineman on my final 53-man roster prediction. But it was highly questioned and I made sure that I spun it is being just a crazy theory.
Then Monday happened.
Although I had already shaped this idea about questioning how ready for the season Zach Banner may be, there was an interesting report out of Steelers practice. This per ESPN’s Brooke Pryor:
Outside of the extra curriculars at today's Steelers practice, something to watch:— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 30, 2021
-Okorafor took reps at right tackle today, while Dan Moore Jr. was at left.
-Zach Banner did not practice& Tomlin said he'd give an injury report next week. Banner didn't travel vs. Panthers.
Still, this could not be a big deal. Perhaps the Steelers are still taking it easy with Zach Banner and saving him for next week’s actual game preparation. In doing so, it didn’t hurt to get some snaps for Okorafor on the right side as Dan Moore Jr. has felt much more comfortable playing left tackle and his preseason tape backs it up. I actually thought about this being a possibility before, but the fact Okorafor had not played right tackle for any preseason snaps made me think this might not work.
But how concerned should we be about Zach Banners availability to start the 2021 season?
If we get the news this week that Banner has landed on the Reserve/Injured List, it’s not something to completely panic about. With the new IR rules, he could return in three weeks. Still, that’s three weeks where the Steelers would not have the players they expected to start on the offensive line which already has many fans concerned.
If Zach Banner is not ready to go, I do not fault him at all. He’s been working hard. He’s been doing all he can to get back on the field. But he suffered a very significant injury. Both Banner and the Steelers would be much better served if a few more weeks would get him closer to full health rather than have him playing injured throughout the year.
Hopefully all this talk is for nothing. Hopefully Zach Banner is ready to go and in regular-season form on September 12. But if he isn’t, it’s not a bad idea right now for the Steelers to be preparing for Plan B.