As if this Pittsburgh Steelers/Baltimore Ravens game didn’t have enough storylines, hours before Wednesday’s kickoff, the team announced center Maurkice Pouncey was headed to the Reserve/COVID list. Many fans didn’t even know who the backup was. That man was JC Hassenauer, making his first NFL start, and after the game, Ben Roethlisberger said he was proud of his performance.
“We’ve taken some snaps in the past during practice. Not a lot but some. I thought he did a great job for being thrown in the fire. This is not an easy defense with looks and things. We had no [center-quarterback] exchange issues. And so I think he needs to be commended for that.”
Hassenauer had played a handful of snaps this season, 26 in various games. But most of those came at the end of lopsided victories, meaning moments where Roethlisberger was also out of the game. And though Pouncey has taken time off in practice, those days typically coincide with Roethlisberger’s schedule. So Hassenauer snapping to Roethlisberger was pretty new.
On the Steelers’ first possession, Hassenauer may have missed a late Ravens’ blitz, leading to an incompletion and punt. But as Roethlisberger crucially points out, there were no major gaffs. No fumbles on the exchange. No high or low snaps. No penalties. All things considered, Hassenauer was solid with the fundamentals of his position which is about all you can ask for on such short notice.
When he made the roster, Hassneauer told reporters he was looking to prove to the team they made the right decision.
“Now’s not the time to ease off or anything like that,” he said in early September. “Now is the time to intensify my work, take it to the next level, and prove myself. Not only to myself but to the coaches and to the team.”
The odds were against him making it this far. He barely started on his own team, largely a backup at Alabama. Undrafted, he spent time with the Falcons before shuffling to the AAF. Pittsburgh signed him to a futures’ contract in 2019 and carried him through camp. He’s been able to hang on since and though it came under less than ideal circumstances, as is often the case with any backup, he played well enough to get the win.