Najee Harris isn't the only Steelers rookie who will start in Pittsburgh's season opener in Buffalo. We've known for a while that third-round pick Kendrick Green would join Harris in the starting lineup. The former Illinois lineman has enjoyed a stellar training camp and will open the season as the Steelers' starting center. Green will look to continue Pittsburgh's rich legacy at the position that was started by Ray Mansfield in the 1960s and continued by Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and Maurkice Pouncey.
Two other rookies are poised to join Harris and Green in the starting lineup when the Steelers face the Bills. Included in their latest 53-man depth chart, the Steelers have promoted fourth-round pick Dan Moore Jr. to starting left tackle. Fourth-year veteran Chukwuma Okorafor, who was slated to replace Alejandro Villanueva at left tackle, has moved back over to right tackle. Part of the switch was due to Zach Banner starting the season on injured reserve. It was also partly due to Moore's play and the fact that Okorafor simply played better at right tackle during camp.
The Steelers have also listed rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth as a co-starter alongside veteran Eric Ebron. The second tight end selected in the 2021 draft, Freiermuth had an extremely impressive camp that saw him catch two touchdown passes from Ben Roethlisberger during Pittsburgh's third preseason game against the Lions. All told, the former Penn State standout did not drop a single pass during camp while quickly moving up the depth chart.
Pittsburgh will have two rookie offensive linemen in the starting lineup when it faces a Bills defense that held Pittsburgh to just 15 points and 224 total yards in Week 14 of the 2020 season. Buffalo's starting defensive line is comprised of defensive ends Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison and tackles Ed Oliver and Star Lotulelei. Last season, the trio of Hughes, Addison and Oliver combined to record 12.5 sacks, 17 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. Lotulelei sat out the 2020 season due to COVID-19.
The rest of the Steelers' starting offensive line consists of second-year left guard and five-time Pro Bowl right guard Trai Turner, who was acquired by the Steelers on July 25. Turner has 89 career regular-season starts under his belt. The rest of Pittsburgh's starting offensive line has a combined 23 career starts.
Despite that inexperience, the Steelers have expressed optimism that they will be able to run the ball as well as protect quarterback Roethlisberger. Moore, a Second Team All-SEC performer during his final season at Texas A&M, received high marks from his teammates during his first NFL training camp.
"I definitely feel good with Dan," Dotson said of Moore, via Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider. "He's a quick learner, so anything you tell him he's trying to adapt to, trying to get right on."
What they lack in experience, the Steelers' offensive line hopes to make up for in physicality. Along with protecting Roethlisberger, the unit is determined to help the Steelers vastly improve from what was the league's lowest-ranked rushing attack in 2020. That's one of the main reasons why Pittsburgh spent a first-round pick on Harris, the reigning Doak Walker Ward winner.
"They're growing with each outing," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin recently said of his offensive line's young interior. "They'll be ready on [September] 12."
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