It’s not often that a team drafts an offensive lineman without much in-game experience at center and immediately expects him to compete for a starting job there out of the bat. Under such circumstances, you would typically expect them to get at least a year of developing those skills.
But that’s where the Pittsburgh Steelers are with Kendrick Green, their third-round pick, as he competes for the starting center position now open due to Maurkice Pouncey’s retirement, along with veterans B.J. Finney and J.C. Hassenauer. He’s just completed his first Spring practice sessions, his first taste not just of being a full-time center, but also of being a professional.
“He’s been doing fairly well. It’s a learning experience for him, not just making the transition to the league, but being a full-time center”, offensive line coach Adrian Klemm said of the rookie. “All those things considered, I think he’s done a heck of a job. He’s embraced it. He’s embraced the offense to become more second nature to him. So I think he’s done a good job, for all the things that we’ve asked of him”.
He also talked about how they are not giving him much of a learning curve, that they are giving him everything that will be asked of him now and seeing how he handles it. “We don’t ease guys into it. We just put guys in the fire”, Klemm said. “You know how Coach T is. It’s not about putting a toe in the water, it’s tossing them in there and then they learn how to swim”.
Under those terms, the Steelers seem happy with where Green is, though Klemm also said that the rookie still has a long way to go, which certainly should not be surprising. As a former defender who converted to offensive guard and then played a small handful of games at center, it’s reasonable to assume that there is plenty of opportunity to grow.
Outside of the experience of repetition at the position, though, he has what the Steelers are looking for. He is quite an athlete for the position, and he has a physical, finishing attitude that meshes well with the identity that they are trying to instill in their offensive line.
Still, he will have to earn the starting job, because it won’t be given to him. Both Finney and Hassenauer have started games in this league, at both guard and center—in fact, for this team, and within the last two years.
The intention is obviously to get Green in the starting lineup at some point, but they won’t put him in there until they feel he will be an asset. They’ll throw him in the fire during practice to try to speed up his advancement, but when it comes to the field, he must be ready.