The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a lot of change forced upon them this offseason, through retirements and financial restrictions. They have lost nearly their entire starting offensive line from last season, for example, including 11-year veteran center Maurkice Pouncey, who retired.
Replacing him is Kendrick Green, as head coach Mike Tomlin half-heartedly confirmed earlier this week. The rookie third-round pick out of Illinois has been taking pretty much all of the first-team reps whenever he has been available, even though J.C. Hassenauer is listed as the starter.
Saturday night’s home preseason game against the Detroit Lions will be the first opportunity for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to work with Green in a game, and that’s key, perhaps the biggest reason that he may play longer than he ordinarily would, aside from adjusting to the offense. But he’s already built a rapport with the rookie, saying that he’s very comfortable working with him.
“He’s doing really well”, he told reporter after Thursday’s final training camp practice. “We’ve started working on silent counts, we’ve done all kinds of stuff. We still are both working together every day to try and get as comfortable as we can, but I’m very confident and comfortable in the way that he’s progressed”.
The Steelers still have 23 more days to prepare for their first meaningful game, on Sunday, September 12 against the Buffalo Bills. They have working throughout the offseason to get Green up to speed, and for them to build a rapport together.
Back in late July, around the very beginning of the training camp process, Roethlisberger did talk about his strong early impressions of the rookie and the effort that he was putting into learning the position and trying to maximize his own abilities.
“He’s got a passion for the game, a passion to be the starting center”, he said at the time. “He knows the shoes and the role that he’s filling. He stayed here during our break and worked and met with coaches, and I was checking in on him. He’s taking this personal, and I think he wants to be the best, and wants there not to be a drop-off, and I think that’s a good attitude to take”.
The center position was one that the Steelers haven’t had to worry about for nine of the past 11 seasons, the two exceptions being the years that Pouncey was injured. They are hoping that Green can be their next long-term starting center, but we are just at the very beginning of the journey with him.