Without eyes on OTAs and very limited information coming in from those who observe practice due to restrictions the team places on what they can report, it can be pretty hard to know much about what little is going on at this time of year.
There are some pieces here and there, however, that might provide a brief glimpse of what has transpired in recent weeks. With OTAs now in the books, Noah Strackbein of Sports Illustrated provided some observations, among them being a positive description of second-year center J.C. Hassenauer.
While the focus of the starting center battle has been on third-round rookie Kendrick Green and whether or not he can show enough to keep B.J. Finney from stepping in, Strackbein suggests not to dismiss the Alabama product.
“If you’re wondering who saw the most time at center during OTAs, the answer is J.C. Hassenauer”, he wrote for SI’s Steelers-centric portal, AllSteelers. “If they started the season today, it feels like Hassenauer is the starter”.
Even Strackbein pumps the brakes, though, a reminder of the heavy degree of caution that must be applied to any observations that are taking place at this time of year. Still regard Green as the frontrunner to open the season in the starting lineup, and it may well be that Finney is the next in line.
“This doesn’t mean a whole ton other than he has the most recent experience with [new offensive coordinator] Matt Canada and [new offensive line coach] Adrian Klemm”, he noted. “Once pads come on and the team can see how ‘nasty’ Green really is, things can change”.
While Canada and Klemm were both here last year, they were in more subordinate roles, and are now being empowered to enact their own philosophies onto the offense. Hassenauer is the only one of the three centers who was on the team last year, however, which was Canada’s only season to date with the Steelers.
Finney spent his first five years in the NFL in Pittsburgh after signing as a college free in 2015. He started 12 games, including five at center, over the course of the 2016 and 2019 seasons. Finney left in free agency a year ago.
Hassenauer entered the 2020 season as the third-string center behind Stefen Wisniewski, a veteran free agent addition who suffered an injury in the season opener and Pittsburgh released after coming off the Reserve/Injured List.
He ultimately started four games, including two at center, in his first credited NFL season. Originally signed in the spring of 2019 after participating in the AAF with the Birmingham Iron, he spent some time on the team’s practice squad that year before being active for all 15 games for which he was healthy on the 53-man roster this past season.