(Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images)
With Maurkice Pouncey retiring this offseason, the Steelers will have a three-way battle at training camp for the starting center position between third-round pick Kendrick Green and veterans B.J. Finney and J.C. Hassenauer.
The Steelers will have four new starters on their offensive line in 2021, but the center position is perhaps the biggest question mark.
“Everything’s open,” Finney said at OTAs. “Everybody’s competing for a spot. It doesn’t matter where it’s at on the board, it’s always up for grabs. I’m coming in with a vet presence and the experience that I have, and I’m going to do my best to be a starter come Day 1.”
Green is considered the favorite to win the starting center position, but he's never played in an NFL game and had just four career starts at center in college. Hassenauer started four games at center last year and it was reported that he was getting first-team reps during OTAs.
Hassenauer has watched perennial Pro Bowler Pouncey master the center position in practice and games the last two seasons, and he could be his replacement this year.
“When you have guys like Maurkice Pouncey, Dave, Ramon, all these guys that have been in the system, they set the standard,” Hassenauer said on SiriusXM NFL Radio recently via Mark Inabinett of Al.com. “They set the standard for excellence. If you’re going out there, you have to go as hard as you can. If you’ve ever watched Maurkice Pouncey in a practice rep, he’s going as hard as he can. I honestly don’t get how he lasted 11 years playing the way he fights like that.”
Along with Pouncey, Hassenhauer has looked up to other past core players on the offensive line like David DeCastro, Alejandro Villaneuva and Ramon Foster. Hassenauer got his first taste of being an NFL starter last year and he hopes to build off that experience.
“It was a huge blessing to be able to have great mentors,” Hassenauer said. “You just mentioned Dave. Years prior, we had Ramon, we had Al in there and, obviously, learning behind Pouncey. He’s an all-decade center. It doesn’t get any better than that. Learning from those guys really helped a ton, so last year was definitely a big learning experience for me.”
It's really a toss-up on who will win the starting center position in training camp. On paper, it seems like Green would be the favorite being that he's a third-round pick, but Hassenauer now has some experience under his belt, something that Green doesn't have yet, so that factor shouldn't be overlooked.