Chukwuma Okorafor has really started to step up his game. Would it be a bad decision for the Steelers to go back to Zach Banner at this point?
ACL tears aren’t easy to recover from. I’ve had one, personally, and I know the intensive rehab and physical therapy it takes to make a full recovery. However, after Zach Banner tore his ACL in Week 1 of the 2020 season against the New York Giants, the plan was that he would be available to the team following a full year of recovery.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Because Banner wasn’t ready to go, the Steelers placed him on injured reserve to begin the 2021 season. Recently, however, Banner has been removed from that list and is now practicing with the team.
The plan was Zach Banner to be a starter for Pittsburgh this year, most likely at right tackle — the position he seems to be most comfortable with. The Steelers didn’t sign him to a two-year, $9.5 million deal to have him watch from the sidelines.
However, considering the fact that Banner is still on the mend from a major injury and the improvement we have seen from the Steelers offensive line over the past two weeks, would it be a mistake to make a switch at this point to get Zach Banner into the lineup?
Steelers shouldn’t shuffle their OL at this point
Because of the improvement in pass protection and the running game we have seen over the past two weeks, I don’t think the Steelers should make another change to their offensive line… at least not yet.
As Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside protector, Dan Moore Jr. has been about as good as you could possibly expect from a day-three rookie. While far from perfect, Moore has displayed quick feet to keep edge rushers in front of him in pass protection while showcasing the ability to generate push in the run game. I think you take the ups and downs at left tackle and let the rookie with immense upside continue to develop.
This brings us to right tackle. If Moore would have looked awful in his role to begin the season, I think Pittsburgh’s decision is easy: they would kick Chukwuma Okorafor back to left tackle and insert Banner on the right side of the formation. However, this now looks like a decision between Banner and Okorafor.
As you might be aware, I have been as critical of Okorafor as just about everyone out there. I thought it was a mistake to put so much faith in his abilities when he was well below average last year. However, I’m going to backpedal on this just a bit.
While Okorafor is still underwhelming, he has been much better over the past two games, and Roethlisberger’s pockets have been noticeable. There’s something to be said with continuity on the offensive line. Not only is Okorafor younger, healthier, and more athletic than Banner, but he has now strung together two impressive performances.
Obviously, if Chukwuma Okorafor reverts back to his old ways and looks bad this week, I would strongly consider making the switch to Zach Banner. However, with the way this offensive line has stepped up their game in recent weeks, I would hold off making a switch for now.