What, you thought the Steelers offensive line would be a finished product by now?
In case you were too focused on the secondary to notice, the Steelers are in the throes of overhauling an offensive line that was once one of the best in the entire NFL.
An overhaul doesn’t usually happen gradually; no, it’s often all at once. For Pittsburgh, it began with the retirement of perennial Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey in February. Left guard Matt Feiler exited not long after that when he became an unrestricted free agent and signed with the Chargers in March. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, also a free agent, ultimately signed with Baltimore.
Those three developments didn’t take many by surprise, but the release of David DeCastro, once one of the best right guards in the universe, certainly did when the news hit the fan in late June.
The release of the injured and less effective DeCastro paved the way for the signing of veteran right guard Trai Turner not longer after.
Turner joined Chukwuma Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, rookie Kenrick Green and Zach Banner as one-fifth of a prospective line that didn’t necessarily inspire confidence in the fans, but at least there was some optimism, especially when it came to Dotson and Green. These were the five guys, from left to right, that Pittsburgh went into training camp hoping to gel into its new and improved (over the disastrous 2020 unit, anyway) offensive line.
Unfortunately, as the 2021 training camp bled into the 2021 preseason, it became apparent that the overhaul of the line might not be finished by the time the regular season started.
In case you haven’t noticed, the regular season is about to start. And instead of Okorafor at left tackle, it looks like he may open the season over on the right side, thanks to the IR designation for Banner who is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in Week 1 of 2020. As for center? That may be Green, but it could also be J.C. Hassenaur, a 2018 undrafted free agent who struggled in six games at the end of the 2020 campaign but seemed to improve from then until now and showed it during the aforementioned training camp and preseason.
When you’re talking about who will open the season at left tackle, that’s where the real excitement takes hold. I’m talking about Dan Moore Jr., the 2021 fourth-round pick out of Texas A&M who seemingly came out of nowhere to surprise a lot of folks this summer.
Are folks really excited about Moore? I guess that depends on who you ask. Did Moore earn his opportunity simply through merit, or was it more by default thanks to the struggles of Okorafor after his switch to left tackle? Are you confident in Okorafor over on the right side, despite the fact that he didn’t seem to do a great job at that position last year?
What about B.J. Finney and Rashaad Coward, two guards the Steelers signed in the spring, cut in the summer and then signed again a day or so later? Do you think they’ll ultimately figure into the mix?
Maybe Joe Haeg, the veteran Pittsburgh signed in March, will have to man one of the tackle positions at some point in 2021.
In other words, the Steelers may have to throw a lot of stuff at the wall while they’re in the throes of overhauling their offensive line.
As I alluded to with my first sentence, this really shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone. In hindsight (maybe in now sight), there was no way this wasn’t going to be a messy transition.
Would a more premium draft choice have helped? That’s debatable. How about some unrestricted free agent that’s sitting out there? Maybe, but he’s sitting out there for a reason. Even if that unrestricted free agent is signed by the time this article is published and comes in and ultimately solves the problem at one of the tackle spots, what about the other tackle spot?
The Steelers will likely still be trying to piece together a cohesive offensive line well into the first month of the season (if not beyond that). That was always the way this was going to be (in hindsight, anyway).
You can’t tear down a unit in one offseason and expect to have it rebuilt without delays by the start of the regular season.
It normally doesn’t work that way in the overhaul and reconstruction business.