Like so many aspects of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense, there’s no clear starter at center. Day one of the team’s OTAs offers a chance to watch a new face in a Steelers’ uniform for the first time. A starting point in what will be a multi-month process to determine who the team will roll with in Week 1.
Speaking with reporters after today’s practice, Mike Tomlin cautioned not to read much into the team’s first-team offensive line, especially when it comes to the middle.
“I don’t know that I’m looking for it here in May,” he said via Steelers.com’s Teresa Varley when asked if the center position had clarity. “Again, like a lot of things we’re just laying some foundational things and teaching and learning and identifying candidates for roles as opposed to divvying up the labor.”
According to reports from those who attended today’s practice, Mason Cole ran as the first-team center. And reading into what Tomlin said, it sounds like Cole held that spot throughout practice instead of the team mixing and matching starter reps with other candidates. That’s generally typical for how the team works, preferring to give one player a full day or multiple days of work before switching out at a later time.
Cole signed a three-year deal on the first day of free agency, and the money, while not as much as James Daniels, suggested a starting role. Cole started seven games last season in Minnesota, seeing some work at guard, but has spent most of his career at center. Last year, rookie Kendrick Green struggled mightily inside and now appears to be logging time at guard, either battling Kevin Dotson or becoming the team’s versatile interior backup, similar to the role B.J. Finney held for years.
A starting five of Moore-Dotson-Cole-Daniels-Okorafor on paper looks to be the most ideal combination. But Week 1 is still months away, and plenty can change from here to now. Green should be given another shot to show he can improve from a difficult rookie season, especially knowing he was thrown into the fire playing a new position.
With more experience, continuity, and importantly, more talent, the Steelers’ O-line should be a better group than it was a year ago. It’s a low bar to clear. Pittsburgh needs its front five to open lanes for Najee Harris and protect whoever is starting at quarterback. If the line can’t take serious steps forward, the Steelers’ offense is in for another long year.