ShareThis Page
Steelers’ Chuks Okorafor confident after rookie season | TribLIVE.com
Steelers/NFL

Steelers’ Chuks Okorafor confident after rookie season

Chris Adamski
| Sunday, February 17, 2019 11:59 p.m
750558_web1_AP_18364762603656
AP
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor warms up before an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Pittsburgh.

On New Year’s Eve, less than 24 hours after the Pittsburgh Steelers season ended, Chuks Okorafor paused for a moment as he stood in the locker room at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Looking back on 2018 caused the eyebrows of the Steelers’ young offensive tackle to rise.

“Honestly it’s been a crazy year,” Okorafor said. “After the season last year (for Western Michigan) just going right into training and then the combine, pro day, minicamp, rookie camp, all the way through the season … It’s just been a long, long process.”

Fitting because Okorafor has come a long way. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound lineman came to the Steelers as a third-round pick from a Mid-American Conference school and as someone who had immigrated to the United States from Botswana as he began high school.

That means he’s still relatively new to American football, in addition to being new to the NFL and to playing at a higher level than the MAC.

But Okorafor proved he wasn’t out of place in limited action as a rookie. He appeared in 12 games with one start at right tackle (in November at Denver), playing 155 offensive snaps. He made two “starts” at “tight end” — meaning, on the first Steelers offensive snap of both Cleveland games, Okorafor lined up wide as an extra tackle.

“After the preseason games and after playing a little bit (at tight end in the regular season) and also playing against Denver, I always feel like I can play here (in the NFL),” Okorafor said. “Hopefully for a long time.”

Like most teams, the Steelers don’t typically draft players in the third round they don’t view as starter-capable. Okorafor didn’t prove that without a doubt during his time as a rookie. But he played well enough to show he has a chance to become a starter.

Okorafor said the strides he made in 2018 concerned the mental part of the game, in techniques he learned from since-departed offensive line coach Mike Munchak and in developing an NFL-caliber body at ages 21 and 22.

“(Strength and conditioning coach Garrett Giemont) helped me out, whether it was making me more flexible or kind of gaining a little bit more kind of mass and losing fat,” Okorafor said. “I have never been in as good as shape.”

After years of stability along the offensive line, the Steelers face some uncertainty this offseason as left guard Ramon Foster (unrestricted free agent) and right tackle Gilbert (high salary-cap hit following two injury-plagued seasons) might not return.

If Gilbert is let go, Okorafor would be a prime candidate to take over as the starting right tackle. But that is not at all assured: Matt Feiler returns after starting 10 games at that spot last season, Jerald Hawkins is healthy after spending 2018 on injured reserve and mammoth-but-raw Zach Banner returns after a redshirt season of sorts on the 53-man roster.

“Everyone’s goal is to play,” Okorafor said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s me, if it’s Matt, if it’s Gil coming, if it’s Banner, if it’s Hawk — everyone’s goal is to play. Obviously you are in the NFL, and you just want to play and prove yourself every day. So yeah. I have no idea what is going to happen, but we are going to see how this all ends up.”

Hey, Steelers Nation, get the latest news about the Pittsburgh Steelers here.

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Steelers
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.