The Steelers brought signed a talented, but troubled guard in the signing of five-time Pro Bowler Trai Turner, which the team made official on Friday.
With David DeCastro released and contemplating retirement, Turner is going to slot in as the Steelers’ starting right guard right away.
However, just why did the Los Angeles Chargers cut Turner, why was he still available in late June and how does Turner project to fit in with the Steelers?
Reviewing years of film to get the full picture, Turner has some exciting football plays on his resume, but it comes with a caveat, and that is health.
In 2020, Turner was one of the worst starting guards in football, according to Pro Football Focus. He ranked 79th out of 80 qualifying guards, and while he was bad down the stretch, that does mean there were not factors that made Turner worse for wear.
A nagging groin injury kept Turner’s athleticism and strength neutralized the entire season. That hurts how lineman can move laterally, their explosiveness out of their stance, and the core strength they can engage against power.
With a tall task to mirror quick, springy pass rushers on the interior, Turner tried to overcompensate with his mind. This is a clear example of that overcompensation. Turner executes a jump set to his right side before the pass rusher even declares a direction. This causes Turner to overset, and his near shoulder opens up to the inside with his feet and core so engaged to the right. It allows the pass rusher to easily rip through and get into the backfield.
Here is where the strength issues prop themselves up. Watch any season prior to the 2020 season, and Turner will appear as a powerful and tough football player who looks for work. That was not the case in 2020, as Turner appeared hesitant and certainly uncomfortable with his injuries. However, one issue on this play that consistently pops up across his film is high pad level. It can really open up his chest to defenders and allow him to throw him by the wayside. Though, usually not to this degree, as Turner could not activate his core strength with the groin injury to anchor down.
Yet again, here is the athleticism under injury concerns with Turner. The obvious object here is to turn that defensive lineman and give Austin Ekeler a lane in which he can cut upfield and get solid yardage. However, that requires Turner’s post foot to endure the brunt of the force, and engage his core to get that defensive lineman turned around. With Turner not confident at all in his groin, it is tough to expect him to put that much power through his core and lower body. It leads to an uninspiring block that leaves a lot to be desired.
However, there were some flashes of the Turner that showed up in 2019 on his 2020 tape, as well. No matter what happened, Turner was always extremely smart. His mental processing was elite, it just always depended on if his body would allow him to get there.
The Chargers run inside zone here, and while Turner is trying to combo block to reach the linebacker at the second level, the linebacker keys in on the run and flies downhill. Turner does an excellent job of reacting to this, getting his hands on the linebacker, and throwing him out of the play. It allows the running to cut back to the backside of the play and gets a first down. These are just subtle things that Turner can help the Steelers do.
The one game Turner was truly healthy for in 2020, there was mean-spirited nature to his play. So much so, it is borderline the point between aggressiveness and cheapness. However, it should be noted that Steelers offensive line Adrian Klemm wants nastiness and aggressiveness along his offensive line.
On a play-action rollout to the backside, Turner simply manhandles the one-technique from behind and puts him in the dirt. That is the type of tone-setter that Klemm has spoken about in the past at length. It could be a cheap play or even get a flag, but Klemm is unlikely to discourage this type of play after what the Steelers saw on their offensive line last year,
If healthy, the 2019 version of Turner may be the version the Steelers see. This is the type of stuff that badly need more of the offensive line. Turner delivers a strong punch and just keeps his legs churning. In a phone booth like these tight spaces, Turner can really manhandle defensive lineman and open up large holes. His individual block on this play is fantastic, even if the rest of the offensive line lets him down.
Perhaps the best way to show Turner at his height is his 2019 performance against none other than Aaron Donald. For the most part, Turner held up exceedingly well against the best player in football. This is no different, either. While Donald gets Turner with pads a little high, Turner stays within his frame, keeps his feet under him for a strong base, and then uses Donald’s momentum against him. Donald gets thrown just about out of the picture on this picture and few players can do this to him. Turner is one of them.
The Steelers are certainly putting a lot of faith into Turner returning to form. However, there is no reason to think he should not be able to do so. He is still only 28, and Turner played well in Week 2 before the groin injury popped up. Still, this is largely dependent upon his health. Turner has not played a full season since 2016, so his health is certainly a question but for only $3 million, it’s a low-risk, high-reward type of deal for Kevin Colbert.