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NKySteeler
07-31-2008, 02:32 PM
With these comments, it looks like most of the line will be working the majority of camp together, which is very very good!... Hopefully they decide in the first game or two about the center position. It would be nice to see the "starting 5" get some serious work in together before Sept. 7th...
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Center position still up for grabs
By Scott Brown
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Steelers entered training camp with three starting jobs on the offensive line ostensibly up for grabs.

Less than a week into practice, offensive line coach Larry Zierlein stopped just short of saying the Steelers have settled on their starters everywhere but at one position.

That means the Steelers could have a most expensive backup this season.

Incumbent Sean Mahan is battling free-agent signee Justin Hartwig for the starting job at center. As for the rest of the offensive line, Zierlein said, "We're pretty well set. We'll see what happens with the center thing once we get in preseason (games), but I would say we're pretty well set."

If that is the case, it looks unlikely that Max Starks will get the opportunity to challenge Willie Colon for the starting job at right tackle -- and to justify what the Steelers are paying him this season.

Starks is guaranteed almost $6.9 million, but he may fill the role of swing tackle as he did in 2007.

The fifth-year veteran was the Steelers' top reserve at both tackle positions last season, and he filled in capably at left tackle when Marvel Smith was sidelined by back problems.

Rather than let Starks become an unrestricted free agent, the Steelers designated him a transition player during the offseason.

They were required to offer him the average of the top 10 salaries for offensive linemen in 2007, and when he signed the one-year tender offer, the money became guaranteed.

The salary Starks will make this season apparently has not been a factor in his competition with Colon.

Colon unseated Starks at right tackle last season -- Starks had been the Steelers' starting right tackle in 2005-06 -- and started every game there.

Zierlein said the third-year tackle excels at run blocking and has been improving his pass blocking.

"Willie's looking pretty good," Zierlein said. "He just keeps working on his protections, and he'll get better."

Colon said he has taken the approach during training camp that he is anything but entrenched at right tackle.

"I don't take anything for granted because I know I am in a competition battle," Colon said. "All I can do is just play ball."

Chris Kemoeatu, the projected starter at left guard, has been unable to play ball because of a tricep injury he suffered before the start of training camp.

Despite his absence and inexperience -- Kemoeatu has started two games in three NFL seasons -- the Steelers don't appear to be seriously looking at any other options at left guard where they must replace seven-time Pro Bowler Alan Faneca.

Trai Essex has been playing in place of Kemoeatu, who is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, with the first-team offense. But he is a tackle and is not considered more than a stopgap at guard.

NKySteeler
07-31-2008, 02:36 PM
Here's another article on the same subject.....
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Hartwig, Mahan battle for first string
By F. Dale Lolley, Staff writer
dlolley@observer-reporter.com

LATROBE - For a number of years, the Steelers prided themselves in stability at the center position.

In fact, from the time Ray Mansfield became a starter in 1964 until Jeff Hartings retired following the 2006 season, the Steelers had just four starting centers, with Hall of Famer Mike Webster and Dermontti Dawson bridging the gap.

Things have certainly changed as the Steelers enter this season with the possibility of having their third starting center in the past three seasons.

There's a battle between incumbent starter Sean Mahan - signed as a free agent last year to replace Hartings - and newcomer Justin Hartwig, a seven-year NFL veteran with 63 career starts at the position with Tennessee and Carolina.

As the returning starter, the 6-3, 301-pound Mahan feels he has the advantage.

"Absolutely," Mahan said, who got a five-year, $17-million contract from the Steelers last year.

"I've gotten to know the team better. I've got a year in the system and I just feel more comfortable. Everything is something I've done before with the team."

Mahan signed with the Steelers as a free agent from Tampa Bay following Hartings' retirement and won the starting job in training camp over Chukky Okobi, who was later released, despite having made just eight of his 36 career starts at center.

But the team grew increasingly concerned with Mahan's play as the season progressed. Opponents began lining nose tackles directly in front of him and they either drove Mahan back or beat him off the snap.

And that's why the Steelers signed Hartwig within a week after Carolina released him in March in a salary-cutting move.

"I wasn't made any promises," said Hartwig, who signed a two-year, $4-million deal to join the Steelers. "I did have offers to play for other teams, but the Steelers organization was one I felt really comfortable with and I liked what Coach Tomlin had to say."

Hartwig, who had signed a five-year, $17-million deal with Carolina in 2006, suffered a severe groin injury in the first game of that season which ended his year.

"I am excited about the opportunity to be out here playing football," said Hartwig. "I am going to do my best and hopefully I am on the field. That will play out over the course of training camp."

Hartwig made 15 starts at center for the Panthers in 2007, though he admits his groin was still a problem.

"The offseason I spent rehabbing and going into last year, I never had my body to the point where I needed to be to be productive like I know I can be in this league," Hartwig said. "Over the course of this offseason, I worked really hard in the weight room and I'm at the point where I feel my strength is back. My body feels really good."

It should make for an interesting battle.

Mahan has taken the majority of the snaps with the first-team offensive line thus far at training camp, with Hartwig getting a handful of repetitions with that group. But that could change at any time.

"Justin and I are friends and it doesn't go anywhere past the field, but you know it's going to happen every year," he said. "It's a competitive business and it's what makes everyone better."

rpmpit
07-31-2008, 02:47 PM
Read about this on steelers.com and I find it hard (very hard) to believe that this is an open competition and that Mahan has the advantage. Unless Hartwig gets hurt, I think he gets the job.

NKySteeler
07-31-2008, 02:51 PM
Read about this on steelers.com and I find it hard (very hard) to believe that this is an open competition and that Mahan has the advantage. Unless Hartwig gets hurt, I think he gets the job.

...I think you're right. At least I hope so... Whether Mahan has "geled" or not is not the issue... Him stopping a NT from coming up the middle IS....

SteelerOfDeVille
07-31-2008, 02:54 PM
what happens if Kemo is injured during the season?

the way the article reads isn't comforting.

rpmpit
07-31-2008, 02:57 PM
Read about this on steelers.com and I find it hard (very hard) to believe that this is an open competition and that Mahan has the advantage. Unless Hartwig gets hurt, I think he gets the job.

...I think you're right. At least I hope so... Whether Mahan has "geled" or not is not the issue... Him stopping a NT from coming up the middle IS....

Exactly. He looked completely lost out there. No way we sign a free agent center and have him sit on the bench behind Mahan.

NKySteeler
07-31-2008, 03:02 PM
what happens if Kemo is injured during the season?

the way the article reads isn't comforting.

...It wouldn't suprise me if he does... Starting camp on the PUP list is not a good way to begin the season.... But hey, hopefully Mahan can come off the bench and fill-in for him... :wink:

rpmpit
07-31-2008, 03:03 PM
what happens if Kemo is injured during the season?

the way the article reads isn't comforting.

Mahan. Mark it down!

EDIT: NKy beat me to it. But yeah, Mahan played guard for Tampa Bay and I don't think he was horrible at it :lol:

SteelerOfDeVille
07-31-2008, 03:09 PM
I should probably relax. I guess you can't make Mahan the backup guard until he loses his starting job @ center, huh?

Jigawatts
07-31-2008, 03:11 PM
Another disturbing subject title keyed in by NKy. :wft

:P


Boooo Mahan, hooray Hartwig.

NKySteeler
07-31-2008, 03:11 PM
I should probably relax. I guess you can't make Mahan the backup guard until he loses his starting job @ center, huh?

... Just another reason to name Hartwig the starter early.... Give Mahan some time at the guard position during camp with the backups.

NKySteeler
07-31-2008, 03:13 PM
Another disturbing subject title keyed in by NKy. :wft

:P


...Just a "Freudian slip", there, sailor... <<he says with a lisp>>... :lol:

frankthetank1
07-31-2008, 03:21 PM
what happens if Kemo is injured during the season?

the way the article reads isn't comforting.


nothing in regards to the o-line is comforting. they could always have colon play LG until kemo is back, but that would mean mahan would still be on the bench and a player of mahan's caliber should never be on the bench :lol:

to think that colon might be a back up is sickening. he was one of the better o-lineman last year and he was playing out of position. no way starks doesnt start JUST because of his contract. its really a bunch of crap

rpmpit
07-31-2008, 03:32 PM
what happens if Kemo is injured during the season?

the way the article reads isn't comforting.


nothing in regards to the o-line is comforting. they could always have colon play LG until kemo is back, but that would mean mahan would still be on the bench and a player of mahan's caliber should never be on the bench :lol:

to think that colon might be a back up is sickening. he was one of the better o-lineman last year and he was playing out of position. no way starks doesnt start JUST because of his contract. its really a bunch of crap

Mahan played guard on the line that blocked for Cadillac Williams the year he won rookie of the year. Could just be that he is totally out of position at center and he might actually be a decent guard.

RuthlessBurgher
07-31-2008, 04:01 PM
what happens if Kemo is injured during the season?

the way the article reads isn't comforting.


nothing in regards to the o-line is comforting. they could always have colon play LG until kemo is back, but that would mean mahan would still be on the bench and a player of mahan's caliber should never be on the bench :lol:

to think that colon might be a back up is sickening. he was one of the better o-lineman last year and he was playing out of position. no way starks doesnt start JUST because of his contract. its really a bunch of crap

I would vote for Colon at LG, allowing Max to start at RT again. Then when Kemo comes back, let him compete with Simmons at RG (where a man of Kemo's girth would be a better fit than at LG), and hopefully he wins this time (Zeirlein said he was close last year).

I think Smith-Colon-Hartwig-Kemoeatu-Starks is your best combination of 5 (I like having 3 nasty guys like that in the interior), while still having some decent experience among your back-up options of Essex-Mahan-Stapleton-Simmons-Hills.

SteelerOfDeVille
07-31-2008, 04:37 PM
Another disturbing subject title keyed in by NKy. :wft

:P


...Just a "Freudian slip", there, sailor... <<he says with a lisp>>... :lol:
Believe it or not, by this point, I was expecting, "fight to bend over in front of Ben" as the title. :shock:

NKySteeler
07-31-2008, 04:39 PM
Believe it or not, by this point, I was expecting, "fight to bend over in front of Ben" as the title. :shock:

...Wanna come up to the throbbing... err...thriving metropolis of Florence and join me for the game here in Cincy, big boy!... :lol:

SteelerOfDeVille
07-31-2008, 05:25 PM
Believe it or not, by this point, I was expecting, "fight to bend over in front of Ben" as the title. :shock:

...Wanna come up to the throbbing... err...thriving metropolis of Florence and join me for the game here in Cincy, big boy!... :lol:
Uhhh... you and SMG have fun... :shock:

Seriously, I still can't believe I haven't made it up there. I've even got a place to stay (good friend moved up there last year).

frankthetank1
07-31-2008, 05:38 PM
what happens if Kemo is injured during the season?

the way the article reads isn't comforting.


nothing in regards to the o-line is comforting. they could always have colon play LG until kemo is back, but that would mean mahan would still be on the bench and a player of mahan's caliber should never be on the bench :lol:

to think that colon might be a back up is sickening. he was one of the better o-lineman last year and he was playing out of position. no way starks doesnt start JUST because of his contract. its really a bunch of crap

I would vote for Colon at LG, allowing Max to start at RT again. Then when Kemo comes back, let him compete with Simmons at RG (where a man of Kemo's girth would be a better fit than at LG), and hopefully he wins this time (Zeirlein said he was close last year).

I think Smith-Colon-Hartwig-Kemoeatu-Starks is your best combination of 5 (I like having 3 nasty guys like that in the interior), while still having some decent experience among your back-up options of Essex-Mahan-Stapleton-Simmons-Hills.

your right i think thats the best combo they could put together. i would also love to see kemo beat out simmons

frankthetank1
07-31-2008, 05:39 PM
what happens if Kemo is injured during the season?

the way the article reads isn't comforting.


nothing in regards to the o-line is comforting. they could always have colon play LG until kemo is back, but that would mean mahan would still be on the bench and a player of mahan's caliber should never be on the bench :lol:

to think that colon might be a back up is sickening. he was one of the better o-lineman last year and he was playing out of position. no way starks doesnt start JUST because of his contract. its really a bunch of crap

Mahan played guard on the line that blocked for Cadillac Williams the year he won rookie of the year. Could just be that he is totally out of position at center and he might actually be a decent guard.


wow i didnt realize that. i knew mahan played guard at notre dame, but i didnt know he had a good season in the nfl like that

papillon
07-31-2008, 06:35 PM
I should probably relax. I guess you can't make Mahan the backup guard until he loses his starting job @ center, huh?

I can, but, the question is will Zeirlein do it? I doubt it. I hope that a year getting to know the Steeler system will help Mahan this year. The only problem was it seemed he was physically unable to compete at this level, not a "getting used to the system" problem.

I'll leave it to the poobahs running the Steelers to set the team and then we can discuss it to no end.

Pappy

AkronSteel
07-31-2008, 10:38 PM
Speaking of Mahan:

I have a collection of Steelers wins going back to the 89 playoff game against the Oilers (I only keep the wins cuz when would I ever watch the losses), and I plugged in the Buccaneers game from '06 one night back in the spring just to watch Mahan at guard, and ya know. He wasn't that bad, alot better than he showed last year at C.

So maybe just maybe he could be serviceable there, well theres always hope right?

:tt2

sd steel
07-31-2008, 11:13 PM
I have been thinking about this since the articles came out regarding faneca being a malcontent last year, and doing everything except outright screwing up on purpose. Mahan was playing a new position in a new scheme, and the guy who he has to rely on most, the anchor veteran guard, is calling it in.

Maybe Mahan's poor performances were a direct result of Faneca. His size, although not a behemoth, isn't detrimental to the center position. There are other centers in the league that are very good at the same size as mahan. Being that we really don't know all of their blocking schemes, Faneca could have made Mahan look much worse than he really was. If that's the case, and with a years experience and some support on his left side it could make a huge difference in his results. Just a thought.

If that isn't the case, maybe Hartwell hasn't had enough time to learn the scheme and the line calls yet.

Shawn
07-31-2008, 11:35 PM
what happens if Kemo is injured during the season?

the way the article reads isn't comforting.

Mahan. Mark it down!

EDIT: NKy beat me to it. But yeah, Mahan played guard for Tampa Bay and I don't think he was horrible at it :lol:

I personally think Essex would give Mahan some serious comp.

AkronSteel
07-31-2008, 11:40 PM
what happens if Kemo is injured during the season?

the way the article reads isn't comforting.

Mahan. Mark it down!

EDIT: NKy beat me to it. But yeah, Mahan played guard for Tampa Bay and I don't think he was horrible at it :lol:

I personally think Essex would give Mahan some serious comp.

I like Essex, I don't think that he has performed all that badly when given the oppurtunity through out his early years in the Burgh. I think that he may just be mobile enough to play the guard spot. He got a bad rap last year because of the QB sweep but really he shouldn't have been put in that situation, cuz the darn play shouldn't have been called anyway!