(Photo via Zach Banner's Instagram)
Mike Tomlin on Wednesday afternoon without hesitation named the starting right tackle for the Steelers Week 1 game on Monday night against the Giants: "(Zach) Banner is the starter at right tackle."
Coming into training camp, only one starting position was vacant and that was the right tackle spot since Matt Feiler moved to left guard with the retirement of Ramon Foster. It was between Banner and 2018 third-round pick Chukwuma Okorafor for the right tackle position, and by all indication judging from the media's training camp pool reports, the battle could have really gone either way. Tomlin talked about how tight the race was during his Tuesday press conference.
“I’m comfortable with the prospects at right tackle, Tomlin said. "It’s been a tough decision because I feel like we have two starter-capable guys. We’ll quickly sort that out this week.”
Banner played 216 snaps last year in a tackle eligible role when the Steelers went to six offensive linemen, while Okorfaor played 73 snaps which all came in the Steelers Week 10 win over the Rams. Against Los Angeles, Feiler was moved to left guard due to Foster being injured and Okorafor started at right tackle over Banner. Okorafor has made one other start in his career and that came against the Broncos, which he fared pretty well against Von Miller. Banner has yet to start in an NFL game if you don't count reporting as a tackle eligible on the first play of the game.
This led some to believe that Okorafor had the upper hand in the battle for the right tackle position, but Banner was impressive in his role last season and was a dominating run blocker. There have been doubts about his pass protection abilities, but Banner is very agile for a big man and has lost a tremendous amount of weight since arriving to Pittsburgh in August of 2018. Banner, who once weighed over 400 pounds as a rookie when he was with the Colts, is now down to 335 pounds.
"I am in the best shape of my life, said Banner in an interview with the media on Sept. 4. "See how loose this shirt is, how faded it is, that can't lie. It's an old shirt, two or three-year old shirt. I am most proud of my physique, my shape. I would like to get the goal towards the end of the season being 325-330, maybe 320-325."
If you have followed Banner's social media this offseason, you know how much work he's put into his craft and how motivated he is to prove the doubters wrong and show that he's a starting offensive tackle in the NFL. Banner will get his first chance to demonstrate that he belongs as a starter this Monday night against the Giants, the work has been done to get to this point, now he just has to showcase it, because if not, a starter-capable right tackle as Tomlin said, is right behind him.