It can be seen as the professional football version of a hangover. What was so pleasant and fun and quasi-euphoric the previous day can quickly turn into a dazzling headache the next. And so it was for the Steelers, because while there was a lot to enjoy and enjoy from their win-opening victory against the Giants on Monday night, their reality on Tuesday morning was that they may have lost much of their depth along the offensive line in addition to their starting runs back.
During his weekly news conference at noon today, coach Mike Tomlin said he did not have much new information on the status of starting right tackle Zach Banner (knee), Stefan Wisniewski (chest) who was filling in to start right guard David DeCastro (calf) and starts running back James Conner (ankle). But he outlined some potential avenues that the Steelers could explore with a game against the Denver Broncos that was set for 1
“I do not have much new information, but I think it is safe to characterize Zach Banner as out this week,” said Tomlin. “We are still in the process of getting scans on Stefan Wisniewski and James Conner, but I think their forecast is more favorable, so we leave the light on for the two. We make some necessary adjustments and close ranks in a short week and see where it leaves us in terms of division of labor.We recognize that injury is part of the game and although it is unfortunate for these men, it may mean opportunity for other deserving and skilled men, just as it was Monday night for Benny Snell , and he exhibited it. ”
Of the three injured players Tomlin referred to, Conner was the first to be forced out of the game. After getting 9 yards on six passes and catching two passes in 8 yards, Conner was replaced by Snell, who carried 19 times to 113 yards (5.9 average). And of the three players, Banner seemed to maintain the most serious injury judging from the reaction of his teammates and his own reaction when he first got on the bench on the sideline.
“It may be a cold game, but it’s very similar to life,” Tomlin said of his emotional reaction to Banner’s situation. “We are not defined by what happens to us, we are defined by how we react to it. So when unfortunate events like this occur, we talk openly about it. It is not that he was hurt after all he has been through and the struggle he has been through to get where he is. It’s about what he does going forward and responds to it. He’s a competitor, he’s a professional, and I expect him to smile in adversity. ”
Banner had got the right starting job this summer in what Tomlin described as a close competition with Chuk’s Okorafor, and the plan for inheritance in this position therefore seems obvious.
“We’ve talked a lot about the Chuks along with Zach Banner and the fight they had for the right tackle, and as I have repeatedly said, I thought both guys were starting and I still feel that way,” he said. Tomlin. “So I’m extremely comfortable with Chuks and his ability to play and his overall readiness.”
But the right guard is less secure. When asked about DeCastro’s status, Tomlin said, “I do not know. I’m hoping he’s able to work (Wednesday). We’ll see.” If DeCastro is unable to practice / play this week, and if Wisniewski’s chest injury removes him for a week or longer, the next man up as currently indicated in the depth map will be rookie Kevin Dotson.
“Dotson is a young guy who has not had much work in this whole process due to injury and lack of availability, and then there is some anxiety there,” Tomlin said. “If he is called up for this week, it will require a huge effort from him and from us, and with us I mean we put him in the very best position to perform. So there is some double responsibility there.”
What does not appear to be an option at this point is to move starting guard Matt Feiler back to tackle.
“We’re making some moves on the offensive line and so I don’t want to wonder what our depth or pick order will be until we handle the necessary business,” Tomlin said. “But I like Matt’s play on guard, I liked his game (against the Giants). I know he’s tackle ready and I’m sure it will be an element of the discussion at the right time.”
Before Tomlin even finished his press conference, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reported that the Steelers signed Jerald Hawkins of the Houston Texans’ training group. Hawkins, 6-foot-6, 305 pounds, is a tackle selected by the Steelers in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. During his time in Pittsburgh, Hawkins ended up on injured reserve two different times, and since joining the NFL, he has only appeared in six games with one start.
Also in the mix as one of the eight offensive linemen on the team’s original 53-man roster is JC Hassenauer, a first-year pro from Alabama who signed with the team as a free agent in 2019.
“JC has been on our program. He was on our training team last year,” Tomlin said. “He’s a very good backup, a guy we’re familiar with in terms of knowing what to do and having an understanding of his skill set. He’s an inside backup rotation player and is capable of being called up if it is necessary.”