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Veteran Turner hopes to fill spot

PITTSBURGH — Newly signed Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Trai Turner just wants to fit in on a revamped line.

The Steelers signed the eight-year veteran to a one-year contract after minicamp last month. The team had a significant hole along the offensive line following the surprise release of longtime right guard David DeCastro.

“DeCastro was a great player,” Turner said. “I’m not necessarily saying that I’m replacing him. I’m just the new right guard.”

DeCastro, a former first-round pick, was a six-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro in nine seasons with the Steelers. DeCastro didn’t practice during the team’s minicamp last month and the Steelers decided to release the veteran guard after evaluating an ankle injury.

DeCastro’s release gave the team a little more money to spend, allowing the Steelers to sign Turner.

“When a guy like Trai Turner is available to us, and we can afford him under our salary cap, we decided to make that move,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. “It takes nothing away from what David did in his nine seasons with us, but we have to be ready for 2021.”

Turner, entering his eighth NFL season, is a five-time Pro Bowler who was cut by the Los Angeles Chargers. The 28-year-old Turner spent just one season in Los Angeles, playing in a career-low nine games.

The Steelers hope Turner can return to the form he showcased during a six-year stint with the Carolina Panthers, when he became a Pro Bowl fixture after the Panthers selected him in the third round of the 2014 draft. Turner made the Pro Bowl every year from 2015-19 before he was traded to Los Angeles in 2020 for Russell Okung.

Turner missed seven of the Chargers’ first eight games in 2020, but he started each of the final eight while protecting QB Justin Herbert, the Offensive Rookie of the Year. Turner, who has made 89 starts in 93 NFL games, hasn’t played more than 13 games in a season since 2016.

“I know what I can do,” Turner said. “I know who I am and I know what I bring to the table. I feel like that’s all that really matters.”

Turner provides a veteran presence on a new-look offensive line that will protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in his 18th NFL season. DeCastro was released and Maurkice Pouncey retired, while Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler both left in free agency. Pouncey, DeCastro and Villanueva combined for 17 Pro Bowls.

Kendrick Green, the team’s third-round pick, is in the mix at center along with veterans J.C. Hassenauer and B.J. Finney. Chukwuma Okorafor shifts to left tackle, Kevin Dotson returns for a second season at left guard, and Zach Banner, who tore an ACL during Week One last season, is expected to be the team’s right tackle.

“Not only do I have to get used to new guys, but they have to get used to me,” Turner said. “I think it’s more of a positive than a negative that more people are (in the mix) because you don’t know who’s available at all times. You have to make sure you have continuity with everybody.”

Turner has also witnessed intensity from the young group, as there were scuffles with defensive linemen on consecutive snaps during an early training camp practice.

“You definitely want to have that edge,” Turner said. “Nothing is wrong with having that edge because if you don’t have it, I feel it’s far worse than having it.”

Turner is also stressing accountability. Early in training camp, new offensive coordinator Matt Canada didn’t recognize an in-practice mistake. But Turner approached Canada, admitted his mistake and the two talked it out.

“I’m just taking responsibility,” Turner said. “We’re all out here working and I don’t want to slow anybody down … I don’t want to slow myself down. I’m just getting coached up and getting it right.”

Turner and the members of the new-look offensive line want to get it right for Roethlisberger and the Steelers this season, too.

“I’m not trying to emulate, or be somebody else,” Turner said. “I’m not taking the place of, or replacing anyone. I’m coming in and setting the tone for who I am and for what I do.”

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