Does a healthy Zach Banner mean eligible receiver for the Steelers?

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Imagine the roar from Pittsburgh Steelers fans when the stadium’s public announcer declares, “No. 72 has reported as eligible,” for the first time in two years.

Will it be this Sunday versus the Cleveland Browns?

Offensive tackle Zach Banner quickly gained a cult following in Pittsburgh when being called into the game — not in an offensive line capacity but at the tight end position, as tackle-eligible.

The Steelers have long used a backup lineman in jumbo packages to serve as an extra blocker, typically in short-yardage or goal-line situations. A lineman — Banner in this instance — has to be announced as eligible because linemen’s numbers are ineligible. When Banner is used as a third tight end, he’d have to report as eligible.

According to the player/position pivot chart on Pro Football Focus, Banner lined up at tight end on 230 snaps in 2019 — nearly 100 more times than at the tackle position.

In one of those 2019 snaps, Banner was wide open in the red zone for a pass from short-lived legend Devlin “Duck” Hodges. When Hodges chose to scramble instead of throwing it to Banner, it made for postgame locker room comedy.

Eligible receiverdom may be in Banner’s immediate future since it could be some time before he starts a game — Pittsburgh’s current starters, Chuks Okorafor and Dan Moore, Jr., are finally finding their groove.

As Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently pointed out in a Steelers mailbag edition, “… amid Banner’s setback this preseason, the new-look offensive line has played six games without him and seems to finally be building a bit of continuity. Banner may well be more talented than all five of those guys, but cohesion sometimes can make a unit greater than the sum of its parts.”

While Banner waits his turn, why not put him to use as an extra blocker?

Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada didn’t shoot down the tackle-eligible option but has more pressing concerns.

“I think that’s certainly on the table as we continue to move forward,” Canada said. “We’re hopefully continuing to get him back to full strength. Full strength clearance from the medical people isn’t the same as ‘full strength, 100 percent, I feel great doing everything I do, and I have confidence.’ He’s practicing more and more, and we’re excited he’s back.”

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