Okay, bear with me. I haven't thought this one through enough to try to make a convincing argument one way or another. But a notion has continued to creep into my mind this past week with all the glowing remarks about Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Maurkice Pouncey. The general consensus is that Pouncey should be named the team's starting center in place of incumbent Justin Hartwig. There has been mumbling about Hartwig potentially be able (and certainly willing if called upon) to slide over to right guard, but frankly, having not spent much (if any at all) time at the position this offseason, is it really realistic to expect Hartwig to be able to make the transition to RG with this little time before the Steelers' home opener against the Atlanta Falcons?
I don't think it's realistic. So what then?
Some have mentioned the possibility of flat out cutting Hartwig rather than keeping him around as a reserve. Perhaps that's what will transpire in the forthcoming days.
But would starting Pouncey at center and cutting Hartwig be in the best interest of the Steelers? More specifically, does that make the most sense in 2010? It's not exactly like Pittsburgh is 'rebuilding' this year despite the fact that they'll be without their franchise quarterback for (likely) one quarter of the season.
So, my question is this - might it make more sense to start Justin Hartwig at center, at least to start the year, while starting Maurkice Pouncey at right guard, rather than starting Pouncey at center and either Trai Essex, Ramon Foster or some other unproven youngster at right guard (Kraig Urbik, Doug Legursky)?
We saw how poorly Essex played on Sunday night against the Denver Broncos. Essex wasn't horrible last year, but he was far from great, and in fact, probably closer to below average. Yes, Ramon Foster played fairly well in place of the injured Chris Kemoeatu, but he has a grand total of four NFL starts to his resume.
I've never been an offensive lineman, never coached offensive linemen, and to be quite honest, am not exactly sure how exactly an offensive line unit works together. More specifically, I don't know how, say, a right guard works in tandem with the center on his left, and how a dominant guard can make an average center look better than he is individually.
What I'm getting at, in case you haven't figured it out by now, is that I'm wondering if Pouncey might be able to elevate Hartwig's game in a way that makes the interior of our offensive line better than expected. Pouncey may do just fine at center, but for as limited as Hartwig may be, I question if any of our younger options at guard are likely to fare much better at RG than Hartwig would at center.
We all know Hartwig's days are numbered in the Steel City. He almost assuredly won't be returning in 2011 (if there's football) to be the team's center. It will be Pouncey's show by then. But we've still got Hartwig for 2010. And though it may be tempting to upgrade the center position immediately, not to mention begin the Pouncey era at center in Pittsburgh sooner rather than later, it may not make the most sense when you look at the entire offensive line as a whole.