The Steelers may have executed a permanent switch at right tackle, and Chukwuma Okorafor believes it came because of comments he made near the end of the team’s Week 8 loss to the Jaguars. Pittsburgh benched Okorafor for its Thursday-night game against Tennessee, moving first-round pick Broderick Jones into the lineup. Okorafor said (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Brian Batko) the Steelers benched him because he was “acting out” toward the end of the Pittsburgh-Jacksonville game. Mike Tomlin said (via The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly) Jones was deserving of an opportunity and helped the Steelers “provide a spark.”
Signed to a three-year, $29.25MM deal in 2022, Okorafor has been the Steelers’ starting right tackle since 2020. The team drafted Jones with the intent on making him its future left tackle, but a configuration in which left tackle Dan Moore moved to the right side to accommodate the rookie was floated as the more likely scenario this offseason. Since the Week 9 change, Jones and Okorafor said (via Kaboly and the Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac) they expect the Moore-Jones starting duo to remain due to Jones receiving the first-team reps this week. The Steelers’ depth chart lists Jones as the RT starter, though the Georgia product said he would prefer to play left tackle, where he lined up for the SEC powerhouse. Okorafor believes what he said has resulted in “significant” ramifications but maintains his benching was not performance-based, creating an interesting storyline to follow in Pittsburgh.
Here are some O-line subplots from elsewhere around the NFL:
- Missing the past two games with an ankle injury, Trent Williams returned to a limited practice Thursday. Kyle Shanahan said the 49ers‘ All-Pro left tackle has dealt with more than a low ankle sprain, via 49ersWebZone.com’s David Bonilla. The 49ers lost both the games Williams missed, after dropping from the unbeaten ranks — in Cleveland — following Williams’ injury-driven exit in Week 6. A limited practice represents a good sign for Williams’ Week 10 availability and San Francisco’s offensive capabilities.
- The Jets may soon be without yet another offensive lineman. Robert Saleh described Billy Turner as encountering a “concerning” injury, and NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport notes the veteran blocker suffered a broken bone in his hand. This will leave Turner’s status uncertain for the Jets’ Week 10 tilt. Turner has not practiced this week, pointing to an absence. The Jets have turned to Turner at guard in the wake of Connor McGovern and Wes Schweitzer‘s IR trips. The team is likely to have Duane Brown back, however; the 38-year-old tackle — who remains on IR — has practiced fully this week. Saleh recently pointed to Brown’s return kicking Mekhi Becton back to right tackle.
- Although left tackle Terron Armstead came off IR in time to face the Chiefs, the Dolphins played their Germany game without both starting guards. Isaiah Wynn is on IR with a potential season-ending injury, and Robert Hunt missed the game because of a hamstring ailment. Wynn fill-in Robert Jones also left the game, due to a hyperextended knee. While Mike McDaniel said Jones does not need surgery, the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson notes Lester Cotton and 2022 left guard starter Liam Eichenberg are set to vie for the starting role before the Dolphins return to action in Week 11. A third-year UDFA who made his first career start in Week 9, Jones is likely to miss some time, per McDaniel.
- Justin Pugh signed a one-year, $1.43MM deal to rejoin the Giants last month. Pugh’s second Giants contract includes an incentive package worth $2.1MM, he revealed on his NetWorth Podcast (via the New York Daily News’ Pat Leonard). Pugh can earn part of that $2.1MM by hitting the 50%, 70% and 90% playing-time thresholds from the point he debuted (Week 6). Despite the October arrival, Pugh has started — at both guard and tackle — in each of the four games in which he has played this season.