When you watch football at the highest level nowadays, you’ll often notice centers pulling left and right, getting out in front on run plays while utilizing their athleticism in space to get an extra blocker in front.
A pulling center has become a consistent part of the game overall, but back in 1992 it was almost unheard of when Pittsburgh Steelers’ center Dermontti Dawson suggested it leading up to a regular season game. Citing some struggles of the offensive line getting to the second level, Dawson suggested to head coach Bill Cowher, offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt, and offensive line coach Kent Stephenson that he could tap into his pulling guard background and give pulling a try to help get to the second level.
That suggestion ended up paying huge dividends as Dawson helped revolutionize the game from the center position, adding an element that had never before been seen in football. Now, after a Hall of Fame career and the creation of the pulling center, Dawson sees himself as a bit of a trendsetter overall, and recalled the creation of the pulling center in a discussion with Stan Savran for Steelers.com’s Time Machine segment.
“Yeah, because I mean, it wasn’t done on a regular basis and it wasn’t incorporated into many offenses,” Dawson said to Savran regarding if he saw himself as a trendsetter, according to video via the Steelers’ YouTube page. “So I think when we started doing that in ’92, we started preparing for a regular season game every Monday, in training camp. And I can’t remember if it was Philly or something, whatever team it was, but I told coach and those guys. I said, ‘we’re having a problem getting to the second level.’ So I told coach, I said, ‘look, I was a pulling guard.’ I said, ‘we can try, I can snap the ball, pull, make a false call to the guard, a live call or a false call.’ And he would take my responsibility or I would block the down guy.
“We started to fool around with it in practice. And then next thing you know, Ron Erhardt said, ‘I think this is gonna be good,'” Dawson added. “So him and Coach Cowher allowed me to…kind of intercede and just kinda add that to the offense. And I think now everybody’s trying to do it, or everybody is doing it.”
It’s quickly become a staple in the game today as more and more offensive linemen coming out of college are as athletic — or even more athletic — than Dawson was at the position all those years ago. He revolutionized the game, and really took off after that small adjustment to the blocking scheme.
The Steelers’ great proceeded to rack up six All-Pro selections, was a member of the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1990s and later became the fifth center inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
“He redefined the position. … When you look at the numbers we had in the running game, everything we did worked from the inside out, and to have a guy like Dermontti and such stability, that was a staple of every offense we had,” former Steelers coach Bill Cowher said prior to his Hall of Fame induction.
Dawson played a key role in helping the Steelers’ rushing attack transform under Cowher, suggesting to the then-head coach and fellow offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt that he could pull on certain running plays, unlocking a completely new wrinkle to the rushing attack. With Dawson pulling and handling some guard responsibilities inside on certain runs, the Steelers finished in the top 10 in rushing eight times from 1992 to 2000, including No. 1 rankings in 1994 and ’97 and a No. 2 ranking in ’96. The Steelers also featured four top-10 rankings in total offense during that same span.