There isn’t a job in the NFL on the field that is easy—barring, perhaps, long snapper, yet we see even draft picks fail to land a job there. The offensive line is undoubtedly among the most physically demanding and perhaps among the most mentally taxing as well, especially when it comes to working collaboratively.
Each player is his own personality yet must sublimate himself in favor of the collective unit. Within that, though, will be preferences, and Mason Cole’s preference has been to play at center. Why? “Because I think I’m better at it”, he told Aditi Kinkhabwala last night in an interview with 93.7 The Fan.
The fifth-year veteran signed as an unrestricted free agent earlier this offseason with the Pittsburgh Steelers and was plugged into center immediately, in spite of the fact that it was a spot with an incumbent. That would be Kendrick Green, who ended up not even taking snaps at center this summer.
Cole was the wall-to-wall starter all the way, and he has arguably, when healthy, been one of their most consistent performers. He is the only one who hasn’t been penalized. “I do like playing center”, he said. “I like the leadership aspect of it. Playing guard can really suck in the NFL. It’s a lot of one-on-one matchups, not that there’s not at center or tackle”.
Not that he hasn’t experienced a variety of roles. He told Kinkhabwala that he actually played left tackle throughout his high school career. When he got to Michigan, head coach Jim Harbaugh moved him to center his junior year. “He said it was best for me”, he said, and he believed him, describing himself as “ride or die” for Harbaugh.
Since entering the league, Cole has stuck to interior play and has seen time at all three positions. He started at center for the Arizona Cardinals as a rookie but has bounced between guard and center since then, until being given a full-time role in Pittsburgh.
He also likes the cerebral challenge of the center position, which he jokingly agreed was “absolutely” the position requiring the most intelligence. “If you ask James Daniels though, he’ll say him. But it just kind of comes naturally because you’re kind of commanding, making sure these guys are all going the right places”.
He has done that job while here, though injuries have seen greater inconsistency creep into his play-to-play performance. Hopefully, the bye week has allowed him to get his body right and back to where it needs to be to anchor an offensive line that has been underperforming collectively for a few years now.