Steelers Film Room: J.C. Hassenauer A Darkhorse To Start At Center?

When Maurkice Pouncey missed time last season, J.C. Hassenauer was asked to step into the starting center position for the Pittsburgh Steelers along the offensive line. A former undrafted free agent back in 2018 with the Atlanta Falcons, Hassenauer has mainly been a practice squad guy his first two seasons in the league which also included a brief stint in the AAF with the Birmingham Iron before the league disbanded and he signed with Pittsburgh. A practice squad guy in 2019, Hassenauer was the backup on the active roster to Pouncey in 2020, seeing playing time in 15 games and recorded starts in four of them. Based on the charting done by Pro Football Focus, Hassenauer played 303 snaps in 2020, recording a 57.7 overall grade and logged five penalties and zero sacks.

Before bringing in B.J. Finney after being cut by the Bengals and selecting Kendrick Green in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft, Hassenauer was the only center on the team as thus was at the top of the depth chart. Now Green mostly played guard at Illinois but has some experience at center and the notion from the coaching staff is that Green will get a crack at the starting job. Finney too has experience playing center for the Steelers and back to his days at Kansas State, but arguably his best tape has been when he has slotted in at guard for the team in the past. This, along with the release of David DeCastro and the questions surrounding recent signee Trai Turner and his health after a tumultuous 2020 campaign could potentially kick either Green or Finney in at the RG spot should Turner not be ready, or Rashaad Coward not be up for the challenge.

The point of this being, does J.C. Hassenauer have what it takes based off what we have seen thus far to fill in capably at the center position should an injury occur, or even possibly win the job outright in camp. Based on his 2020 film, I personally think that could be a tough ask. Hassenauer hardly played during his time at Alabama due to his lack of athletic upside and size. Standing 6’2, 295lb, Hassenauer is severely undersized for the center position, lack the ideal length and reach to handle interior defensive linemen looking to get hand on and push the pocket. Watch this example against the Washington Football Team where Hassenauer snaps the ball and gets the defender’s hands on his chest immediately, getting his arms swatted aside and takes the long arm as the interior defender and sheds him to make the diving tackle attempt right at the LOS.

Not only is Hassenauer undersized, but he lacks the necessary sands in the pants to anchor against powerful rushers inside and is easily driven back as we see on this next clip from the same game where Hassenauer creates a stalemate initially after the snap, but the gets driven back into the backfield and right into the runner on the run stuff.

We see the same thing here as he snaps the ball and tries to drive his feet on contact, but can’t generate a push upfront, leading to a pileup along the LOS and virtually no gain on the play.

While his physical tools are working against him, his awareness and execution aren’t doing him any favors either. For not letting up a sack statistically, Hassenauer allowed a lot of pressure to get to Ben Roethlisberger in the passing game, occasionally not even putting a body on a defender like we see here against Baltimore where he snaps the ball and constantly scans the field and fails to pick up either of the blitzing linebackers up the middle or help the guard on the downed DL to his right.

As much grief as we like to give Pouncey for not being a clean snapper of the football at times, Hassenauer is just as at-fault as a guy that is trying to make a roster more than fight his way into Canton one day like Pouncey is. The job of the center is to get the ball to the QB before considering what his next move is as a blocker, and Hassenauer fails to do that here, snapping the ball right into his behind while anticipating the block he is about the make, creating a scramble to fall on top of the ball to prevent the turnover.

Overall, I understand the move of bringing J.C. Hassenauer back on a one-year deal when the team had virtually no one else to fill the position. However, after the additions of Finney and Green, I personally would be shocked to see Hassenauer get significant playing time at center in 2021 and would even be surprised to see him make the roster. He did his best to fill in for injury in 2020, but his lack of upside, size, and polish as a blocker can attribute to a big reason why the offensive line struggled last season. Hopefully he can prove me wrong or potentially make the practice squad after the preseason, but as we sit here today, I just don’t see a path for Hassenauer to become the starting center in 2021 outside of a catastrophe occurring.

What are your thoughts on J.C. Hassenauer heading into 2021? Do you think that he is on the roster bubble, or is there a chance he could compete for the center job with a rookie and Finney who dealt with his own adversity in 2020? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

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