The Pittsburgh Steelers may have lost three starting offensive linemen this offseason, either to retirement or in free agency, but they did at least address the position by signing two as free agents and drafting two more last month. Whether or not all four new faces make the roster remains to be seen, but perhaps early indications point to that possibility.
According to Noah Strackbein of Sports Illustrated, Rashaad Coward has been running with the ‘first-team offensive line at right guard during OTAs, noting that David DeCastro has not been present. Coward, who entered the offseason as a restricted free agent, was not tendered by the Chicago Bears, and signed a one-year, veteran-minimum deal with the Steelers to provide depth. Primarily a guard, he is also capable of playing tackle.
“What stood out was that Coward never got replaced”, Strackbein wrote for AllSteelers, SI’s Steelers-centric portal. “For three weeks, he ran with the first team. It doesn’t say he’ll be the starter this season or even make the team, but it’s a good start for someone looking for a roster spot and a team looking for depth”.
He figures to be competing for the ninth lineman role this autumn, with J.C. Hassenauer as his challenger. The top four tackle positions are set with Chukwuma Okorafor, Zach Banner, free agent Joe Haeg, and rookie Dan Moore Jr., while DeCastro, Kevin Dotson, rookie Kendrick Green, and B.J. Finney appear set along the inside. That leaves room for one more.
But Strackbein also writes that Hassenauer has shown well over the past few weeks, indicating that this will be a competition that is brewing throughout the offseason process, down through training camp and the preseason.
He writes that Hassenauer has seen more time working at center during OTAs than anybody else. He even indicates, though I’m not sure I would believe him, that “if they started the season today, it feels like Hassenauer would be the starter”.
Of course, it’s incredibly early in the process, and if Mike Tomlin were asked about any of this, his inevitable response would be not to pay attention to who is playing where. He would no doubt emphasize that new faces get more reps, and Finney had been in the organization for five years prior to returning this offseason. Hassenauer has about a season and a half with the team.
What I will say is that the Steelers, and I would imagine most teams, have a preference of rostering at least three players who are capable of playing center, even if in an emergency capacity, something that has previously applied to players like Kelvin Beachum, Chris Hubbard, and Matt Feiler. If Coward can play some center, that would help him a lot.