For the rest of the preseason, we’ll give a recap, position-by-position, player-by-player of what I saw during the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers training camp and preseason games. This list is based off the 16 public training camp practices and the preseason games I’ve watched up until this point and is based solely off their performance then and does not necessarily represent my feelings for the players overall or during the regular season.
With that in mind, we’ll finish up the offense today with the interior offensive line.
Mason Cole: A bit of a bright spot here, right up there among the team’s best linemen this summer with OT Chukwuma Okorafor. When he signed with the Steelers early in free agency, he seemed like a ho-hum addition who would add stability in the middle but not much else. Cole isn’t going to join the long list of Steelers’ great centers but he was better than I thought. He’s country-strong and effectively handles bull rushes.
Centers in Meyer’s scheme will be put in more 1v1 situations and Cole hasn’t been a liability. He isn’t super athletic or have a standout trait but his punch is consistent and he’s more comfortable using Meyer’s techniques than the others. Cole was healthy and available every single practice and he’s a tough player who got rolled up on a couple times but he never took himself out. He just wraps himself up in about three pounds of tape each practice. Overall, his snaps were good, something that shouldn’t be overlooked in a new system with a new starting quarterback and Cole was steady throughout camp. He’ll be an upgrade in the middle, one of the few positives about this line.
Camp Grade: B+
J.C. Hassenauer: The team’s backup center, he ran as the #2 behind Mason Cole for most of training camp. He saw some left guard work later on but he should be next-man-up in the middle. He lacks size or strength but has active hands and is able to win rushes early, knocking defender’s arms downs with the ability to finish. His aggression and demeanor are what you’re looking for in the position. But here’s the rub – he has to win early. If he’s sitting back and catching, he’s screwed and he lacks the lateral quickness to handle finesses moves and athletic one-techs. Meyer’s system asks centers to do more in pass protection instead of just finding work and helping and that could be an issue for Hassenauer. He’s pretty limited but the team’s second-best center and earned everything he’s gotten. There’s bigger fish to fry than worrying about him, though a multi-week injury to Mason Cole would be a tough blow to this unit.
Camp Grade: B-
Kevin Dotson: Doston’s summers are always bumpy. He mysteriously missed time last year and the team seemed unhappy with him. This camp, he rotated first-team all camp and missed time with a right ankle injury. Even when he returned healthy, Kendrick Green got the starting nod over him in the second preseason game.
Strictly evaluating his play, Dotson was better by Green, bigger and stronger and a bit longer who can sit and anchor more effectively than Green will ever be able to do. Dotson ended his training camp on high notes with good 1v1 showings against Cam Heyward. He needs to gain a better understanding of Meyer’s system and get his eyes to help the tackle when the center slides to him and Dotson by no means was great this summer. He should’ve run away with the starting LG job and he didn’t. It’s still a battle. But he should be this team’s starter Week One and he’s not the extreme liability others on this line have been.
Camp Grade: C+
John Leglue: Leglue picked up where he left off a year ago as the team’s Mr. Versatility, playing up and down the line, though he concentrated more at guard this summer than last. His actual camp seemed a bit disappointing, he had some ugly losses in 1v1s and DeMarvin Leal’s quickness and active hands gave him fits. Leglue looked better in the preseason opener and had arguably the best performance of any Steelers’ lineman. He followed Meyer’s rules well and worked independent hands and flashing a “dead/bait” hand to get the defensive lineman to shoot theirs.
Leglue also works hard to recover when beat and he’s a high-effort player in general, that much was evident last year. He’s still battling for a roster spot and it wouldn’t be completely undeserved but for a team rightly dissatisfied with its offensive line and likely to add help, Leglue could get squeezed out and fall back on the practice squad.
Camp Grade: C+
Ryan McCollum: A more veteran option to replace Gilliam. His first day of training camp was rough with two botched exchanges, the bane of Mike Tomlin’s existence, but the rest of his work was ok. He saw action late in the comeback win over the Jaguars. Could remain on the practice squad thanks to his NFL experience but there wasn’t anything overly exciting about his game.
Camp Grade: C-
Chris Owens: A potential camp sleeper who never worked out. Such is life. Owens was perhaps a bit misplaced in Pittsburgh. A tackle-turned-center at Alabama, the Steelers primarily worked him at right guard throughout training camp. Probably not his most natural or comfortable spot. Instead, the team shifted Nate Gilliam to center, a natural guard, which was always a curious decision.
Owens logged a tiny bit of time at center but nothing about his game stood out. Consistently running third-team, opportunities were scarce and he didn’t play in the opener against Seattle. Days later, he’d be waived as part of the team’s initial cutdowns. He was picked up by the Giants but released a few days ago and will try to catch on during the season. Nothing about his play ended up being all that notable.
Camp Grade: C-
Nate Gilliam: A guard in college, the Steelers have him exclusively running at center this summer. Wasn’t his most natural fit, as I wrote above, I’m not sure why they didn’t play Chris Owens in the middle, and Gilliam had some snapping issues, mostly under center. He had some bulk and was functionally strong but wasn’t an impressive athlete and never stuck out in a positive way. He failed to see time along the line in the first game and was cut before the second one came around, unable to break camp with the club. Gilliam was then picked up by and is currently still with the Cincinnati Bengals. A forgettable camp.
Camp Grade: D+
James Daniels: Oh boy. Cross your fingers that Daniels can turn things around or else Steelers’ QBs are going to live in a new-age Cold War – duck and cover and kiss your butt goodbye. My favorite signing of the summer, my hope and belief was Daniels was the one guy I wouldn’t have to worry about. Now I’m worried about him as much as anyone. He’s been a mess this summer and easily the lineman who looks most uncomfortable under Meyer’s ultra-aggressive teachings. His sets aren’t aggressive enough, he’s struggled with hand placement, and it’s causing him to look terrible on too many pass reps.
My concern with him started, and I noted as much at the time, during 1v1 reps in training camp. Chris Wormley absolutely dusted hm. I just went back and charted his 1v1 reps and the results aren’t pretty. He went 9-13-3 in the reps I’ve charted. I don’t have anything this year to compare it to but I charted OL/DL a bit back in 2017 and the only guys with clear below .500 marks were the likes of Brian Mihalik and Jerald Hawkins. Not company worth keeping.
Things only got worse inside stadiums and Daniels, along with the rest of the line, looked like a disjointed mess against Jacksonville. Daniels’ run blocking has been a bit better and he’s athletic enough for the team to pull him but he’s been the biggest disappointment of the summer. Hopefully he gets more comfortable with more reps but Daniels was expected to be the team’s strongest link. Now he’s among the weakest. A summer to forget and a fall that must improve.
Camp Grade: D
Kendrick Green: As expected, kicking Green from center to guard didn’t solve all his ills. It’s his more natural position, sure, but that doesn’t cure his problems with hand placement, footwork, and overall lack of length and size. He’s a guy that has innate tools, weight room strength and athleticism, but he has to play with perfect technique to put all of that together. Green has no margin for error. The few times that happens, he looks like a starting guard, and there’s been perhaps some improvement there this summer. Squint hard enough and you’ll see goof reps against power in games or him winning 1v1 battles against Isaiahh Loudermilk in camp.
But Green’s pass protection is a total dice roll. A guy who loses 90% of the time is considered bad and it feels like Green is winning 75% of his reps. Power and bull rushes still give him a ton of trouble, guys who get into his hands and run him back. Green is strong and a lack of height gives him built-in leverage but he’s routinely overwhelmed and struggles to stall those rushes out when he gets pushed back. He’s not using Pat Meyer’s hop step to give ground to gain control and that’s a huge issue. He’s not on the ground quite as much as last year, at least in the run game, though he’s not having to execute back blocks on trap schemes that gave him all kinds of problems as a rookie. He’s still athletic and snaps out of his stance though he’s rarely pulled this year – it’s worth mentioning Meyer’s system doesn’t seem to run much gap schemes.
Like most of the rest of the offensive line, Green has struggled to adjust to what Meyer wants him to do. He looks his worst against “off-body” pass sets against three-techs, having more difficulty with that speed and two-way guys as opposed to 1Ts.
Here’s the bottom line. He shouldn’t start, he can’t start, and with a bad year at center and a bad year at guard, his career in Pittsburgh already looks shot. It’s just two years but he wouldn’t be the first third rounder to flame out so quick, hello Kraig Urbik, and I don’t know what you do with Green. He’s not even a swing man anymore. J.C. Hassenauer is the backup center and Green’s never played right guard before. The more I think about and frame it that way, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him cut if the team adds through waiver claim/trade before Week One. Making a mistake is bad. Holding onto that mistake is worse.
Camp Grade: D
Chaz Green: I’m not sure how Chaz Green is still…here. His second year with the team, Green moved around the Steelers’ line after playing only right tackle last year. This summer, he played inside and out. But his play wasn’t any better. His performance in the opener against Seattle was abysmal, worst of any lineman, and that’s saying something. I guess his overall training camp play was fine though as a third-teamer, he didn’t see a ton of action, especially in 1v1 drills.
His veteran status and on-paper versatility is apparently keeping him around. But Green shouldn’t even be on the practice squad this year. Pittsburgh needs new blood.
Camp Grade: D-
Previous Camp Grades