The Pittsburgh Steelers used their third-round pick on an interior lineman who was primarily a guard at the college level and expected him to play center right away. The results have been highly mixed, to be generous—the truth is that he ends up on his back more than his opponents do, which is not what you want to see from one of your linemen.
Illinois product Kendrick Green was very open in the offseason about the struggles of playing the center position in comparison to lining up at guard, talking especially about the difficulty of the adjustment of speed there is the closer you get to the ball. He said that the defensive tackles get on you so quickly when you’re at center, and it’s been a major trial for him that has produced a lot of negative tape through four weeks, much of which we’ve been passing along in our film rooms.
“I’m still working on it”, he admitted on Wednesday,” but I’m getting more comfortable each day. It also helped in that situation having Tyson [Alualu] lined up over me all training camp. He’s a great player, too, so I think that’s helped me as well”.
Alualu, of course, was lost for (almost undoubtedly) the rest of the season with a fractured ankle that he suffered in Week 2. He was replaced by Isaiah Buggs, and Carlos Davis figures to contribute at nose tackle as well when he is able to get back from his own injury.
In Green’s defense, he has certainly had his hands full through the first month of the season. He got to avoid Star Lotulelei in the opener, but still had to contend with Ed Oliver and Vernon Butler. He had his hands full with Johnathan Hankins, Quinton Jefferson, and Solomon Thomas a week later, followed by D.J. Reader, Larry Ogunjobi, and then Kenny Clark most recently.
That’s a rough stretch for sure, but perhaps it’s been valuable experience, throwing him into the deep end right away to give him an answer as to exactly what he’ll be looking forward to going up against top talent in his career. The lesson learned? “Just trying to out-physical people and really just try to get my hands on guys first”.
He should have the quickness and athleticism to get hands on defensive tackles in a hurry. But it’s not just about getting your hands up. He’s also lost as many reps with his mind as he has with his body. Tackles have beaten him in ways that have made him look foolish blocking air.
Truth be told, it’s unfortunate he’s had to play so much so quickly. It’s quite possible that he does have the talent to start in this league, but just needs some time to develop. Unless the Steelers end up deciding to sit him for a while, he’ll remain in sink-or-swim hell, just barely choking.