With the Pittsburgh Steelers likely to be without the services of All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey for the majority, if not the entirety, of the upcoming season, speculation has begun as to whom the team should sign along the interior offensive line to fill in his roster spot.
While the team is likely to rely upon reserve center Cody Wallace to start in place of Pouncey unless or until he returns to the lineup, it would certainly seem to be in their best interests to acquire a veteran player with experience as a reserve, and Dave Bryan offered his thoughts on that subject yesterday.
That still leaves open, however, an additional spot on the roster along the interior offensive line, which was previously held by incumbent Chris Hubbard last season. While I have already previously expressed my belief that he will fail to make the 53-man roster again, perhaps Pouncey’s injury further decreases the likelihood of that happening.
Hubbard has, throughout his three offseasons with the team, primarily worked at left guard, and it is rare for a reserve interior lineman to show such little versatility. He received his first in-game reps at the center position on Sunday, however, and the results were predictably poor.
This is where undrafted rookie B.J. Finney may enter the picture. Outside of the starters and Wallace, Finney has clearly been the best performer along the interior offensive line this preseason, and it is worth pointing out that he has done so without having been given the best opportunity to do so.
Finney was a four-year collegiate starter, but almost all of those starts came at center. While he briefly got some work as the third-team center in practice, he has worked exclusively at right guard during the first three preseason games.
Following Pouncey’s injury, and certainly after watching Hubbard struggle at center during the last game, it would seem to me wise for the Steelers to allow Finney, a more natural center, the opportunity to showcase himself at the position to give himself the best opportunity to claim a spot on the 53-man roster.
Finney was not drafted, but he was a priority free agent signing for the Steelers, so it would seem contradictory for the team not to give him every opportunity to succeed, especially when the alternative candidates have been clearly lacking.
Even if the Steelers do sign a veteran to serve as the backup to Wallace, there will still be a need for a second interior reserve, who will be a game day inactive. Technically, the team carried three interior reserves just last season. And as Ramon Foster proved in 2009, they are not averse to carrying undrafted rookies in that capacity.
Perhaps it would be too much to ask of Finney to serve as the primary backup at all three interior reserve spots, but he looks to have value as the eighth or ninth lineman. He has shown strength and technique, and I believe that after Pouncey’s injury his ability to play the center position, which has been largely ignored, only makes him more valuable.