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Along with having three new starters on the offensive line in 2021, Chuks Okorafor is projected to make the switch from right tackle to left tackle this year. It's a big transition for the fourth-year tackle out of Western Michigan, as he'll now have the responsibility of protecting Ben Roethlisberger's blindside. Okorafor says he's up for the challenge, however.
“I don’t think there is any more pressure playing left tackle, left guard or center,” Okorafor said after Thursday's OTAs practice via Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s still protecting Ben. And it’s blocking for Benny [Snell] or Najee [Harris] or whoever is running the ball. So whether it’s left side or right side, it’s just having to block well.”
The left tackle position is also one of the highest-paid positions in the NFL, as the duty to protect the blindside of a $20-35 million per year quarterback is pivotal.
“I don’t really focus on that yet,” Okorafor said about the possibility of getting paid handsomely as a left tackle. “I still have 6, 7, 8 months until I have to look at that. I don’t want to think too deep down the road. We’ll see what happens. It’s a business. So we’ll see how it plays out.”
Many believed that the Steelers would have drafted an offensive tackle in the first or second round of this year's draft, but it wasn't until the fourth round where they would address the position by picking Dan Moore Jr. out of Texas A&M. What occurred in the draft did not affect Okorafor, however, as he knows that every year he has to compete for a starting position.
“Even if they drafted a left or right tackle in the first or second round, I still feel like I would have to show the team what I can do,” Okorafor said. “I don’t see it like they didn’t draft a guy in the first round so my job is somewhat safe. It’s not safe. Every day, it’s showing the coaches, showing yourself, showing your teammates.”
Okorafor will have to play much better at left tackle this season than what he showcased on the right side last year, as he struggled in both pass and run blocking. According to Pro Football Focus, of the 79 tackles that they graded last year, Okorafor ranked 70th.
Okorafor is now under the tutelage of new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm and it's been revealed throughout OTAs by offensive linemen that Klemm is bringing an aggressive mindset to the group. So, perhaps a new playing style will lead Okorafor to a bounce-back year in 2021.
"This year we have to kind of go downfield," Okorafor said via Mike Prisuta of Steelers.com. "Last year we'd shuffle and we'd kind of hold people. Now, it's like 'attack, attack, attack.' If it's inside zone, outside zone, gap scheme; it doesn't really matter what the play is, we have to go.
"We'll see how it plays out. It's gonna be a good year, for sure."