The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line is set to look very different in 2021. This group has lost all but one of it’s starters from last season. After the down year this line had in 2020, the argument could be made that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Truth be told, this is a problem we saw coming even before the season had begun. Steelers offensive line could be a weakness in 2020
The replacements they have pieced together however are a less than stellar bunch. Time will tell if this new cast of characters ends up being the downfall of the team. Let’s take each individual position and compare it to last season:
Left Tackle: Alejandro Villanueva – Chuks Okorafor
There’s no questioning that Alejandro Villanueva is on the downside of his career. He clearly did not have his best season in 2020. Run blocking was a huge issue last season, and that is definitely not Villanueva’s strong suit to begin with. Replacing Villanueva was never going to be an easy task for this team. This is among the most expensive positions to replace via free agency. That meant the Steelers were never going to be able to afford a replacement by that route.
The prevailing thought was if the Steelers were ready to move on, they would have to invest in a left tackle early on in the draft. Apparently Kevin Colbert and company did not agree with that line of thinking. They waited until very late in the draft to select a tackle. This meant they are comfortable with Chuks Okorafor sliding over to other tackle spot. This seems very risky to entrust the protecting of Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side to player who won a starting job by default last season. If it weren’t for the season ending injury to Zach Banner, Okorafor may not have seen the field at all. Now he is being counted on to man the most important position on the offensive line. One bright side is that this is more of a natural position for Okorafor. He played left tackle throughout his college career.
Left Guard: Matt Feiler – Kevin Dotson
The Steelers offensive line as a whole had a down year in 2020, and Matt Feiler was no different. While it was always assumed that guard was his best position, he seemed to play much better at right tackle the previous year.
Once Kevin Dotson got a chance to play, it was clear he was a huge upgrade for this struggling unit. It was a forgone conclusion that he would be a plus starter for this season’s group. Rumors have surfaced however that the Steelers are unhappy with his conditioning so far this summer. https://www.dkpittsburghsports.com/2021/06/27/daily-shot-dk-steelers-how-kevin-dotson-made-his-coaches-mad
Hopefully for the Steelers sake this report is overblown. This franchise needs Dotson to be a rock solid contributor in the worst way. Anything less could start a domino affect of disaster for this unit.
Center: Maurkice Pouncey – ?
The writing has been on the wall for some time now that the end was near for Maurkice Pouncey. Injuries, and age were taking their toll on the former All-Pro center. An argument could be made that Kevin Colbert should have addressed this position in the draft years ago. Pouncey’ s retirement has left a giant hole in the middle of the Steelers offensive line.
The best case scenario is that third round pick Kendrick Green wins the starting center job sooner rather than later. Both JC Hassenhauer and BJ Finney are backups at best, and not players you want starting for long periods of time. This is yet another spot where this team is really gambling on by not drafting a player early on.
Right Gaurd: David DeCastro – Trai Turner
Nobody saw the release of David DeCastro coming, including the Pittsburgh Steelers. A nagging ankle injury will sideline him for a good portion of the upcoming season. This injury may explain the struggles DeCastro had in 2020. His decision to have surgery to repair the ankle left the team scrambling for a replacement.
Considering the circumstances, Kevin Colbert did quite well in finding a talented guard on such short notice. Trai Turner is a five time Pro-Bowler who is still only 28 years old. How did the Steelers get a player with that resume this late in the process, and for only $3 million you ask? Well injuries is the answer in this case. The most concerning of which is the three concussions Turner has suffered in recent years. Another concussion could sideline him for the entire season, or possibly his career. This is a gamble that Colbert had to take unfortunately. It leaves the Steelers line on thin ice for the entire 2021 campaign.
Right Tackle: Chuks Okorafor – Zach Banner
There is a really good argument that moving Chuks Okorafor to right tackle weakens two positions. In a perfect world he would have stayed on the right side and continued to develop. The Steelers have no such luxury as he is the only viable candidate on the roster to play left tackle.
Zach Banner was well on his way to being this team’s right tackle before suffering a season ending knee injury. Now the Steelers will be relying on him to once again win that job back. This is a pretty big gamble considering this is a player coming off a major injury, and with very little starting experience whatsoever. Zach Banner is just another in a group full of question marks along this offensive line.
Determining whether or not this line will succeed in 2021 very much depends on if you are a glass half full, or empty type of person. On one hand, this is a group which badly needed change after the debacle last season. On the other hand the replacements brought in all have very serious questions to be answered. If everything falls into place this could end up being a very good unit. In football, as in life, we know this rarely happens. Look for significant struggles from the offensive line which ultimately could be this team’s downfall.