Steelers seek starters, consistency along new offensive line
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Adrian Klemm says all five positions remain up for grabs along the team’s revamped offensive front.
At the same time, Klemm said Saturday he’d like to see a starting five emerge and spend extended time together during the Steelers’ next preseason game in a week Saturday at home against Detroit.
“I’d like to settle in,” Klemm said. “We have two more preseason games before our regular game. I wouldn’t say it’s settled, because we have a different lineup almost every day. I think we’re in a good position with certain people in certain spots. Obviously, it would be nice if we can get those guys in there and have some cohesiveness for the next couple weeks.”
The line will primarily be tasked with protecting Ben Roethlisberger, back for his 18th NFL season. The Steelers also seek to improve the league’s worst rushing attack. Pittsburgh selected Alabama standout running back Najee Harris in the first round of the 2021 draft to provide a boost.
Roethlisberger will make his preseason debut next Saturday after sitting out the Hall of Fame game win over Dallas and the Steelers’ second exhibition game against Philadelphia.
“We know there are high expectations for them, but at the same time, they’ve been asked to do a good amount and they’ve all been up for it,” Klemm said.
Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Alejandro Villanueva combined for 17 Pro Bowls, but they are no longer with the team. DeCastro was released and Pouncey retired, while Villanueva and Matt Feiler both left in free agency. The Steelers surrendered a NFL-low 14 sacks last season.
Kendrick Green, the team’s 2021 third-round pick, is now in the mix at center, along with veterans J.C. Hassenauer and B.J. Finney.
“I think (Green) has played himself into a nice position, and he’s definitely in contention, if not the guy on opening day,” Klemm said. “He’s getting more comfortable at the position and he’s done a nice job for a guy coming in and having the type of pressure and expectations we have of him.”
Chukwuma Okorafor is expected to shift to left tackle, Kevin Dotson could play his second NFL season at left guard, and Zach Banner, who tore an ACL during Week 1 last season, is expected to be the right tackle.
Dotson, who made four starts at right guard last season, missed the beginning of training camp with an ankle injury, but he played Thursday at Philadelphia and took first team snaps at left guard on Saturday. Veteran Trai Turner, a five-time Pro Bowler signed before training camp has also been working with the first team at left guard.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Dotson worked with the first-team because Turner was given the day off.
“Sometimes when you give a guy a day off, it gives other guys an opportunity to elevate,” Tomlin said. “(Dotson) performed well in the game, but I wouldn’t anoint him just yet.”
Veterans Rashaad Coward and Joe Haeg have earned first-team work at guard and tackle, respectively. Dan Moore Jr., the team’s fourth-round pick in 2021, also saw first-team snaps at right tackle on Saturday after working on the left side for most of camp.
“(I’ve seen) significant growth,” Tomlin said of Moore. “He doesn’t perform like a young guy. We’re going to challenge him this week, let him play on the right side and look at some of his positional versatility.”
It will be a challenge for the entire group as the Steelers seek to find the next five members of their offensive line.
“There’s nothing set in stone,” Klemm said. “You’d like to have it settled, but this happens everywhere. I think it’s going to be great for them in the long term in terms of the development of the group as a whole. We still have a ways to go.”
NOTES: The Steelers officially announced Saturday they acquired former Pro Bowl ILB Joe Schobert from Jacksonville for a sixth-round draft pick. Going into his sixth season, Schobert has played in 77 games, making 65 starts. Schobert, a fourth-round draftee by Cleveland in 2016, has at least 100 tackles in each of the last four seasons. He was the only player in the NFL in 2019 with at least 130 tackles and four interceptions. Tomlin said Schobert will practice for the first time with the Steelers on Sunday.
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