It is unknown what the status is of Pittsburgh Steelers starting center Mason Cole, who left Sunday’s game with a foot injury and was reportedly seen in a walking boot at the team’s facility yesterday. He has played banged up for much of the year, but this injury could cost him time.
If he does sit out, then the responsibility will fall upon veteran reserve J.C. Hassenauer to fill in, something he has done a number of times in recent years. He closed out the 2021 season starting at center after Kendrick Green was injured. And his teammates are confident in his level of play.
“He is truly dedicated to it,” starting left guard Kevin Dotson said about Hassenauer’s commitment to his craft, via Teresa Varley for Steelers.com. “He is very informational. He helps the starters. He is in tune with the playbook. He helps everybody. When he gets on the field there is no drop-off.”
A former college free agent out of Alabama, where he was primarily a backup, Hassenauer did not find his way to Pittsburgh until he played for the Birmingham Iron in the Alliance of American Football in 2019. They picked him up once that league folded and he has had fairly steady employment with the Steelers since then.
Originally cut that year, the Steelers signed him to the practice squad that season when there were injuries. Once they lost their practice squad center through waivers, he was the guy. He made the 53-man roster in 2020 and has dressed for 38 games since then, making eight starts including the postseason, four in each year prior to 2021.
Sunday marked his first significant playing time of 2022, however, logging the final 41 snaps of the game after Cole left due to his injury. He saw four snaps in the opener and one against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
For his part, Hassenauer is not one to toot his own horn, nor take credit for things he believes are simply a part of his job. Told of Dotson’s complimentary words, he responded, “I think it’s the center’s responsibility to know the offense in and out like a quarterback would. I appreciate Dotson saying that but it goes with the position.”
The center is said to be the quarterback of the offensive line. Generally speaking, he does have a lot of responsibilities in terms of identifying the defense and setting the protection scheme, making adjustments where necessary based on what they see at the line of scrimmage.
For his part, Hassenauer has largely acquitted himself well when playing, both pre and post-snap. Most of his playing time has come at center, where he has performed a bit better overall and seems to feel more comfortable. He may get his chance to show it again on Monday.