Back on practice Monday, center Maurkice Pouncey became the first player for the Pittsburgh Steelers to be activated from the Physically Unable to Perform List, returning to work with the first-team offensive line. The result was a ripple effect that was felt throughout each string of the offensive line, which runs three deep.
With Pouncey back running with the starters for most of practice, reserve Cody Wallace moved back down to work as the second-team center, which previously had been manned exclusively by undrafted rookie Reese Dismukes.
Dismukes was then moved down a peg running primarily as the third-team center, but the Steelers also rotated him with B.J. Finney, another undrafted rookie, as they alternated working in the middle as well as at guard.
Pouncey’s time off gave the Steelers coaching staff a nice, long opportunity to get a good look at Dismukes working at center with the second-team line to get a feel for where he stands, and though it’s unclear at this point exactly what preliminary conclusion they might have reached, it may be worth noting that Finney is listed as the third-team center, with Dismukes at guard.
Early training camp depth charts, it should go without saying, are to be taken with a heavy dose of salt, so the listing is certainly not enough to draw any actual conclusion.
It remains to be seen, now that Pouncey is back, how many opportunities the collection of young interior linemen will find with the second-team line at the center position, as it seems that, even though Pouncey did not participate in every drill, Wallace still took all of the reps with the second-team line.
So even if Pouncey continues to get periods of rest every so often, which is to be expected, it is uncertain it that will just translate to more time for Wallace or whether some of the young players vying for a roster spot will stand to see many opportunities.
In the meantime, however, it seems as though Miles Dieffenbach, yet another undrafted rookie, has managed to work his way up from third-string to second-string right guard. Finney also worked as the second-team left guard recently, but that was due to Chris Hubbard running with the first-team line in place of Ramon Foster.
Hubbard, a second-guard guard who spent his rookie season on the practice squad as an undrafted free agent himself, was once in their position, but now he is the one trying to hold them off from reaching where he is.
And early indications are that he is having a solid opening to training camp, but there is still quite a bit of this story left to be told. Finney, Dieffenbach, and others still have five preseason games, beginning this Sunday, to try to show that they have greater long-term upside than Hubbard.
Pouncey’s week off to start camp gave them a bit of a jump start into that competition, but his return has had a ripple effect in practice, particularly at center. I do expect his preseason snaps to be limited in comparison to the rest of the line, however, so perhaps more opportunities still lie ahead to showcase themselves.