Relying upon rookies as starters is never what a head coach wants to do, but sometimes it is their best option. In the case of the Pittsburgh Steelers, they came down with determining that four rookie on offense alone were their best options at their respective positions.
That group included two rookie offensive linemen, with third-round pick Kendrick Green having been penciled in as a starter pretty much since he was drafted, following the retirement of Maurkice Pouncey, who helmed the position for 11 seasons. Green made his debut on Sunday, and, absent three plays in which J.C. Hassenauer played for still-unknown reasons, he at least didn’t look lost.
“We like where he is”, head coach Mike Tomlin said of him on Tuesday. “I thought he brought the intangible things. He played with energy, he played with physicality. He played hard, he finished. Some of the technical things, awareness things, skill-related things smoothed out over the course of the game and it’s reasonable to expect that to continue”.
The offense floundered for most of the first half, but they moved the ball much better in the second, even managing to score on every meaningful possession of the second half, even if they stalled inside the red zone a couple times. But there weren’t many mental errors, particularly pre-snap errors, attributable to anybody on offense, let alone the rookies, which is notable for Green in particular with his responsibilities.
“There are going to be challenges, but boy, what an environment he was in”, Tomlin said of playing in Buffalo for his debut. “We were working on silent count, and he’s a center and all those things. Just to get in that environment with him and Dan Moore and not have a bunch of pre-snap penalties and things of that nature, I just thought was a win”.
“I was prepared to deal with first-and-15 or losing five yards on a third-and-three and going to a third-and-eight because they’ve got their ears bent back and we’re working on a silent count”, he added. “Can’t say enough about the work that those young guys did”.
But he also emphasized the work left to be done. “By no means have they arrived”, he said, and that’s very much true. All of their rookies showed flashes, including defensive back Tre Norwood on defense and punter Pressley Harvin III, but you don’t stop learning once you make the roster.
In fact, playing experience can be the greatest teacher of all, and you are expected to continue to grow on a daily basis. That is how this rookie class has taken the challenge set before them, to be able to be a major part of this offense right away, and to not be the weak link.