The Pittsburgh Steelers were left with no choice but to find a new starting center for the 2021 season when 11-year veteran Maurkice Pouncey announced this offseason that he would be retiring. While they retained J.C. Hassenauer from the previous season, they also seized the opportunity to bring back B.J. Finney after he was released following a one-year dalliance in free agency.
Into the mix with two veterans, the Steelers added rookie third-round draft pick Kendrick Green, primarily a guard out of Illinois, but who has experience at the center position, and has been focusing basically exclusively on that since arriving in Pittsburgh, including studying Pouncey’s tape.
Last week, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked by a reporter in so many words whether or not Green had already won the starting center job. He gave a very Tomlin answer when he replied, “you can surmise that, but there will be no bold announcements”.
While he may have told that to reporters, he hasn’t told Green, who isn’t surmising anything heading into the final preseason game. When asked about Tomlin’s remarks, he said after today’s practice, “he ain’t tell me anything, so I’m trying to approach it like I’m still trying to win the job. That’s how I approach it”.
Not that he should approach it any differently even if he had been told that he would be starting in the season opener. No rookie third-round pick should ever assume that his starting job is secure before he has even played a single meaningful snap, even if his competition is less than inspiring.
Even Ryan Shazier was demoted out of the starting lineup as a rookie before in 2014, despite being an opening-day starter. Granted, that had a lot to do with injury and missed practice time as a result, but it’s a reminder that even a rookie with a starting job is not secure.
Through three preseason games, I think we can say that Green has largely been what he ought to have been expected to be, warts and all. He obviously has room to grow, which is not a surprise, given that he is more experienced at center (something he readily admits has been an adjustment), but he has enough strong tape out there to feel good about putting him in the lineup over the alternatives.
One area in which he has been consistently impressive has been in his effort. That is not just about his willingness to play through the whistle on the field, but the amount of time and effort he has invested on the practice field, in the classroom, and just overall, in an effort to be the best starter he can be as soon as possible.