Entering the 2013 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers weren’t really sure if they had a backup center after they allowed Doug Legursky to leave in free agency. John Malecki had been on the practice squad and saw time in the season finale the year prior, but he was largely untested.
Malecki did make the final roster, but he was released so that the Steelers could sign Cody Wallace, a veteran center who nonetheless did not have much game experience in his career.
As we saw in the season opener a year ago, Plan B at center, at first, was to use Kelvin Beachum, which was certainly a plan that they hoped they wouldn’t have to put into action.
When the situation arose that the Steelers needed a new permanent center, neither Beachum nor Wallace were deemed suitable options, so they brought in Fernando Velasco, who went on to start the next 11 games.
But it was Wallace who started the last four after Velasco himself went down, and he showed well for himself, particularly in the last two games of the season. He parlayed that stretch of performances into a three-year contract and a seeming assurance to be the backup interior reserve on game day for the Steelers.
So far through two preseason games, Wallace has had his share of struggles. It may still be early, but his recent showings leave some doubt as to how comfortable the Steelers should be in their depth along the interior offensive line.
Wallace was easily bested by former Steeler Corbin Bryant on this early third quarter play. He got excellent penetration and Wallace was forced to hold on to his arm, drawing a flag as Landry Jones hurled the ball into the grass.
He was beaten once again by the quickness of the defensive lineman on the next drive, this time by veteran journeyman Landon Cohen, who, outside of a couple penalties, is admittedly having a strong preseason. His jump off the snap on this play is actually incredibly well-timed, and it took me a while to conclude that he was, in fact, onside.
But a reach block, particularly for a center, is a difficult assignment as it is, and Cohen left Wallace with no chance on this run, blowing up Dri Archer in the backfield for a two-yard loss.
Wallace also showed poor awareness on the play in which Jones was sacked and stripped. Both he and Bryant Browning assumed that the other would stick with Stefan Charles after they initially double-teamed him. Wallace was then not quick enough to react to his right as Cohen was beating Chris Hubbard. Once he got his attention focused to his right, Charles was able to get free and help sack Jones.
Browning was injured on that play, and as a result, Wallace took his place at left guard, with Wesley Johnson coming in at center. Overall, he probably played a bit better at guard than at center, at least in this particular game.
On his first play at the new position, he first helped double-team the right defensive tackle with Johnson, and then worked to his left to form a wall. The problem was that the right side of the offensive line—and David Paulson—didn’t do their jobs, and the Steelers only gained one yard on the play.
On second down, with the offensive line running zone to the right, Wallace was able to clear Bryant out of the hole again, this time with Tauren Poole actually finding a bit of breathing room, hitting the hole for a four-yard gain.
It’s hard to say that this was anything but a disappointing performance from Wallace, but we saw last year that he is capable of playing better. His awareness in pass protection in particular left some to be desired in this game, and he was taken advantage of a few times by quick penetration.
Coupled with a pair of penalties against him, it’s clear that the Steelers will need more from him if and when he’s called into action during the regular season, because it seems unlikely that they will find a suitable replacement for him at this late state. After all, that is how they got him last year in the first place.