With training camp just around the corner, it’s time to turn our focus on what is going on within each position, and on the roster as a whole. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a closer look at some of the roster battles that we expect to see unfold over the course of training camp as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the start of the 2021 season.
Unlike last season, which was carried out through a pandemic, things should return much to normal this year, which should help provide us with clearer insights into where people stand. The return of the preseason in particular is a crucial window into operations that we lacked a year ago.
Position: Interior Offensive Line
Up for Grabs: Swing/Backup Job
In the Mix: J.C. Hassenauer, B.J. Finney, Kendrick Green
Basically, one of these three will be starting. One of these three will be the direct backup. The other of the three may not even make the 53-man roster. The only thing we know for sure is that Green, the rookie third-round pick, is going to make the team.
Whether or not he is in the starting lineup from the word go remains to be seen, but he is the odds-on favorite to win the job, with his competition being a pair of former college free agents who would no doubt qualify as journeymen, had they journeyed a bit more.
Both of them, however, do have starting experience in the Steelers’ system. B.J. Finney has a total of 12 starts along the offensive line to his name, five of which have come at the center position. J.C. Hassenauer started four games last season for Pittsburgh, three of which were at center.
As for Green, well, he started four games at center throughout the entirety of his college career. He was primarily a guard, and his background dating further back is actually on the defensive side of the ball, so there is a definite learning curve.
But the Steelers drafted him because they thought he presented great value as a starting-caliber NFL center in the third round. I’m sure they’re banking on him winning the starting job right away, yet knowing that they have fallback options if he’s not quite ready from his first snap.
There was a time no so long ago that Finney was viewed as a starter in waiting, albeit at guard rather than center. He was the assumed heir apparent at left guard when Ramon Foster retired, but when that happened, Finney left in free agency (which proved disastrous).
Matt Feiler started there last year, and now Kevin Dotson, a 2020 fourth-rounder, is primed to take over. But the point is, he was previously seen as starter-capable in the past, with the game tape to back it up. Hassenauer, though, has the most recent experience, and is certainly still young enough to be malleable and to grow into his game. Bottom line, they’re in a position to allow the best player right now to play, and that doesn’t necessarily have to be the rookie.