With the 2022 new league year, the questions will be plenty for quite a while, even as the Pittsburgh Steelers spend cash and cap space and use draft picks in an effort to find answers. We don’t know who the quarterback is going to be yet—even if we have a good idea. How will the offensive line be formulated? How will the secondary develop amid changes, including to the coaching staff? What does Teryl Austin bring to the table—and Brian Flores? What will Matt Canada’s offense look like absent Ben Roethlisberger?
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: Kendrick Green will still be an opening-day starter despite the Steelers agreeing to terms with multiple interior offensive linemen.
Explanation: While deals can’t be made official until 4 PM, the Steelers are expected to sign a pair of interior offensive line free agents, James Daniels and Mason Cole. Daniels is a surefire starter. While Cole is capable of starting, and his numbers suggest that the Steelers may expect him to start, there figures to be competition, including third-year Kevin Dotson, to settle the interior offensive line.
Coaches make the decisions about who starts, not fans and their opinions of how people are playing. The fact that Kendrick Green has been widely criticized has no bearing on how the Steelers coaching staff feels about him and his future.
Kevin Colbert repeatedly went to bat for Green this offseason, in a certain respect, rejecting the notion that he was ‘benched’ at the end of the season, instead making it clear that he was only dressing as an emergency option after suffering an injury, an option they hoped they wouldn’t have to use, as J.C. Hassenauer finished out the year at center.
Both Cole and Daniels can play either guard or center. So can Green, and the Steelers have talked about Green potentially playing guard, as well. He has three shots—left guard, right guard, and center—to start, as we sit here.
And Kevin Dotson didn’t do himself any favors last year after entering the 2021 season as the lineman that fans were most confident in. He’ll have to fight for a starting job. Cole will probably at least nominally have to earn a starting job as well.
The Steelers want to see Green pan out, and they’re going to give him every opportunity to succeed. He still has all the traits they saw in him when they drafted him in the third round a year ago, and anybody who writes off a player after one season is a little too confident in their evaluating skills.
Coaches decide who plays, but the biggest component of that decision is based on performance. Kendrick Green was one of the worst interior offensive linemen in all of football in 2021. Even assuming that he displays some natural growth and maturation from year one to year two, he has a lot of ground to make up.
Cole is a natural center, which Green was very openly struggling with as a rookie. Dotson could be moved back to right guard, where he played all his life prior to entering the NFL, with Daniels at left guard. That’s their best lineup right now, on paper.
And there’s still the draft. Nothing is stopping them, theoretically, from drafting another lineman in the first round, like Zion Johnson. Their moves obviously make that less likely, but they could very well draft an interior-capable lineman who could start in 2022.