The student might not have surpassed the master. But the student is the only one still in school. J.C. Hassenauer spent his first few years in Pittsburgh learning from the vets in front of him. Guys like Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, and of course Maurkice Pouncey. With all those players gone, Hassenauer knows he has to step up. He joined Sirius’ Lance Medow to talk about what he learned from those guys before they departed.
“It was a huge blessing to be able to be able to have great mentors,” Hassenauer told Medow. “You just mentioned Dave, years prior we had Ramon, we had Al in there and obviously learning behind Pouncey. He’s an all-decade center. It doesn’t get any better than that. Learning from those guys really helped a ton. So last year was definitely a big learning experience for me.”
Hassenauer went from classroom to the field in 2020, logging over 300 snaps, seeing time at guard and center. A long journey for an undrafted player like he was, beginning his career in Atlanta, moving to the AAF, and then arriving in Pittsburgh.
With Pouncey retiring, the starting center job is up for grabs. Hassenauer will battle veteran BJ Finney and rookie Kendrick Green and hopes to take the practice habits he’s watched and learned from over the years into his training camp battle.
He described what it was like watching an elite player like Pouncey practice.
“When you have guys like Maurkice Pouncey, Dave, Ramon all these guys that have been into the system, they set the standard. They set the standard for excellence. If you’re going out there, you have to go as hard as you can. If you’ve ever watched Maurkice Pouncey in a practice rep, he is going as hard as he can. I honestly don’t get how he lasted 11 years playing the way he fights like that.”
Hassenauer said in practice, some of his toughest battles, funny enough, came against Pouncey.
“When I first got to Pittsburgh, when we did individual, usually you have a practice partner and I would go with Pouncey. And he was the best d-lineman I would go against. No offense to our defensive lineman. But he would throw me to the ground. He would do all these different moves that I was just not ready for.”
Hassenauer will need to establish the same mentality in order to win the starting job. He’s unlikely to be considered the favorite but the Steelers are good about giving the job to the man he’s earned it. Finney is coming off a difficult 2020, not playing a single offensive snap, while Green is an underclassman rookie making the full-time switch to center.
As we wrote about yesterday, the Steelers’ o-line is experiencing a changing of the guard. Hassenauer and the rest of this group, full of new and/or inexperienced faces, will have to uphold the standard set by the guys he learned from.