Tomlin hopes to settle starting center position
8/12/2008, 9:07 p.m.

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The Associated Press

LATROBE, Pa. (AP) — As the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp enters its third week, coach Mike Tomlin is still looking at a battle for starting center.

Offseason free-agent acquisition Justin Hartwig will start Thursday night against the Buffalo Bills in Toronto after last season's starter, Sean Mahan, started the preseason opener against Philadelphia last week.

"I'd like to have it solved yesterday," Tomlin said Tuesday. "But you don't always get what you want. We'll have clarity, certainly, when we do make that decision."

Mahan-Hartwig is the hottest competition for a Pittsburgh starting spot that has yet to be settled. The only other clear cut battle is at punter, where veterans Paul Ernster and Mitch Berger will each get equal opportunities to punt in the final three preseason games until Tomlin decides on a replacement for Daniel Sepulveda, who is out for the season after knee surgery.

"It's running its course," Tomlin said of the center competition. "We're going into the game looking at the quality and cohesiveness of the (offensive line) unit. The sooner we start evaluating, the better."

Ostensibly, starting spots are still up for grabs at right tackle (Willie Colon and Max Starks) and inside linebacker (Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons), but all indications are that incumbents Colon and Foote have those jobs wrapped up.

The Steelers enter their second preseason game with only two starters other than Sepulveda out with injuries — safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Deshea Townsend.

Polamalu has been on the physically unable to perform list all through training camp with a hamstring ailment, while Townsend is being held out as a precaution due to a sore groin.

Also ruled out of the Buffalo game, Tomlin said, are linebacker Mike Humpal (neck stinger) and safety Ryan Mundy (high ankle sprain) — both rookies — and backup quarterback Charlie Batch, who broke his collar bone in the win over Philadelphia last week.

The Steelers signed former Jacksonville Jaguars starter Byron Leftwich on Sunday to replace him. Tomlin said he expects Leftwich to play extensively despite having only three days of practice with the team.

Tomlin said the first-team offense and defense will play more than they did in the 16-10 win over the Eagles, which was only one or two series, depending upon the player. Starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, for example, will play more than the one series he did last Friday.

"We'll really be focusing on things that are not talent oriented, and more on things that are cohesion oriented," Tomlin said. "We're looking for perfection from an assignment standpoint."

Also Tuesday, the Steelers claimed third-year defensive end Kevin Huntley off waivers from the Washington Redskins. Pittsburgh released rookie free agent defensive lineman Kyle Clement.