The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their first preseason game exactly two weeks from today, and according to head coach Mike Tomlin on Thursday, rookie center Kendrick Green and second-year defensive back Antoine Brooks Jr. will both start that Hall of Fame game contest against the Dallas Cowboys, according to Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Twitter
Green, an Illinois product, was the Steelers’ third-round draft pick this year after playing most of his college career at guard. He played enough at center, however, to warrant the Steelers drafting him for that position with the hopes that he could be the longtime replacement for veteran Maurkice Pouncey, who retired earlier in the offseason.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger reportedly indicated after Thursday’s practice that Green made all the calls during practice earlier in the day as a member of the first team, according to Jim Wexell of Steel City Insiders on Twitter.
As for Brooks, the Steelers’ sixth-round draft pick in 2020 out of Maryland, it looks like he’ll get the first crack at being the team’s new nickel cornerback, a position that Mike Hilton played for the last several seasons. Hilton signed with the Cincinnati Bengals earlier in the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. Tomin did reportedly caution after Thursday’s practice to not read too much into Brooks starting the team’s first preseason game.
Last season as a rookie Brooks played in four games and a total of 29 defensive snaps. He also logged 10 more snaps on special teams. Brooks started the 2020 season on the Steelers’ practice squad before being elevated to the 53-man roster in Week 8. He was inactive for two games last season and did not play in three other contests that he dressed for. He finished his rookie season with two total tackles.
“These guys come to work, particularly when they have been exposed to some of the things that he’s been exposed to,” Tomlin said of Brooks via Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. “He’s played Big Ten football. He’s been in some big circumstances. We’ll see what the process does to him, but not a bad issue or a bad start from today’s perspective at all.
“This is our first day working in a training camp like setting, but he’s been working extremely hard dating back to the spring since we acquired him with classrooms, zooms and so forth. So, he just had an opportunity to show some of that today.”
Tomlin continued on Brooks starting in the Hall of Fame game.
“A one-day sample, but we thought it was important to get those guys that we’re trying to get to start in the Hall of Fame game as much work as we can,” said Tomlin. “There’s no indication of where they are in terms of their career. You can label him a starter if you choose. He is. He’s a starter for the Hall of Fame game, if that means anything.”
Brooks intercepted Roethlisberger during Thursday’s practice from the slot and the quarterback reportedly went over to the young defensive back to compliment him on the play he made, per Brooke Pryor of ESPN on Twitter.
“He’s filling Mike Hilton’s shoes, who’s been a rock on that defense …For him to make that play, .. I was happy for him,” Roethlisberger reportedly said.