The Steelers have named Zach Banner the starting right tackle to start the season, beating out former third-round pick Chukwuma Okorafor for the starting role, as was reported by Adam Crowley of ESPN Pittsburgh and confirmed Steelers Now.
Banner, 26 is entering his third season with the Steelers after joining the team late in training camp in 2018. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of the University of Southern California by the Indianapolis Colts and also spent time with the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers before catching on with the Steelers.
Head coach Mike Tomlin listed Banner and Okorafor as co-starters on his first depth chart of the 2020 season on Monday and said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday that he feels comfortable with either player.
“I’m comfortable with the right tackle prospects,” Tomlin said. “It’s been a tough decision because I feel like we have two guys who are starter-capable.”
Banner made a name for himself with Steelers fans throughout last season as the team’s extra tight end, with fans celebrating his No. 72 uniform being declared as an eligible receiver. He was entered into a competition with Okorafor throughout training camp for the starting right tackle role after the Steelers moved 2019 starting right tackle Matt Feiler to left guard to offset the loss of Ramon Foster, who retired.
Tomlin said late in training camp that one player winning the competition to start in Week 1 against the New York Giants on Monday Night Football does not necessarily mean that he’ll have that job guaranteed going forward.
“Those are good problems to have,” Tomlin said. “I don’t know if I necessarily view it as a negative thing with whoever gets named starter could have a short leash.”
The battle between Banner and Okorafor was the longest and most important of the Steelers’ training camp decisions. The only other co-starter designation handed out by Tomlin on Monday was at kickoff returner, where recently signed wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud and rookie running back Anthony McFarland, Jr. are slated to share time.
Report: Steelers to Retain Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler on One-Year Deal
Keith Butler will return as the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator on a one-year contract, according to a report by Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
ESPN had previously reported that Butler was seeking only a one-year extension to remain in the position that he’s held since 2015.
The Steelers’ defense finished 2020 fifth in the NFL with 21.2 points per game allowed, the second consecutive season the team finished fifth in the league in scoring defense after coming in ninth, 10th, 11th and 16th in Butler’s first four seasons as defensive coordinator.
Butler, 64, started in Pittsburgh as linebackers coach in 2003, serving under legendary Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and winning two Super Bowls.
A native of Anniston, Alabama, Butler played at Memphis State and spent 10 seasons in the NFL as a linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks. As a coach, he spent seven seasons as a defensive assistant at Memphis, one as Arkansas State’s defensive coordinator and three seasons as the Cleveland Browns’ linebackers coach before joining the Steelers in 2003.
The Steelers have at least one vacancy on their defensive staff as defensive backs coach Tom Bradly was not retained. Senior defensive assistant Teryl Austin has interviewed for the vacant Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator position.
Report: Steelers Will Hire Offensive Line Coach Before Officially Promoting Matt Canada
The Pittsburgh Steelers are reportedly waiting to hire their next offensive line coach before officially announcing the promotion of quarterbacks coach Matt Canada to offensive coordinator, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac.
According to Dulac, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s desire to ensure the team’s next offensive line coach meshes with Canada’s philosophy has resulted in the delay.
In addition to parting ways with the offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner last Thursday, the Steelers also moved on from offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett. Sarrett had spent nine years with the Steelers organization, the last two leading the offensive line. He took over the position from his mentor Mike Munchak in 2019, who left Pittsburgh to take the same role with the Denver Broncos.
The aging Steelers offensive line struggled during the 2020 campaign, as Pittsburgh owned the league’s worst rushing offense at just 84.4 yards per game. The unit only allowed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked 13 times all season, but the quarterback rarely held the ball long enough on pass plays to be reached, which was likely by design.
Tight end coach James Daniel also retired since the end of the season and Canada’s promotion would create a vacancy at quarterbacks coach.
Steelers Projected to Receive 4th and 6th Round 2021 Compensatory Draft Picks
Over The Cap is projecting the Pittsburgh Steelers will receive fourth and sixth round compensatory picks in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Steelers would receive the fourth rounder to compensate for the loss of defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles last offseason. Hargrave recorded 4.5 sacks, five tackles-for-loss, eight quarterback hits and made eleven starts.
Pittsburgh would be given the sixth round selection for safety Sean Davis, who signed a one-year, $4 million contract with Washington. Davis was ultimately cut by Washington prior to Week 1, and rejoined the Steelers, primarily contributing on special teams. He had twelve total tackles and a fumble recovery in 2020.
Over The Cap’s Nick Korte does note that the Steelers’ signing of fullback Derek Watt could negate them receiving the sixth round compensation for the initial loss of Davis.
Pittsburgh could also potentially receive another sixth rounder for linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who signed with the Buffalo Bills last offseason, but Korte projects he will fall beyond the league’s 32-compensatory pick maximum.
The Steelers received a compensatory third round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft to make up for the loss of running back Le’Veon Bell.
The Baltimore Ravens are the only other AFC North team projected to receive a compensatory pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, a fifth-rounder to remedy the loss of current Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Michael Pierce.