Ok, I've done a bit more reading about the Justin Hartwig signing and once again, it seems as if we might have just stumbled into another steal of a deal. That was the impression TheMostViolentTeam gave me in his initial mention of the development, but I wanted to dig a bit deeper for myself, specifically to find out why exactly was this guy cut in the first place? Should we really be excited about a guy that a mediocre team like Carolina cut? Well, the answer is yes, and the reasoning is similar to the one that applies to the Mewelde Moore situation in Minnesota.
Like Moore, Hartwig was a victim of circumstance. For Moore, it was an overly crowded backfield with potential league MVP Adrian Peterson and an overpaid Chester Taylor. For Hartwig in Carolina, it was the team deciding to go with last year's draft pick at center, Ryan Kalil. Here's a snippet of what I wrote about Kalil about this time last year:
The Steelers might be interested in Kalil because of Hasting's retirement. The Steelers were spoiled during the Bill Cowher era by the dominant and reliable play of Hartings and Dermonti Dawson. Neither rarely, if ever, missed a game, and the continuity that our O-Lines have demonstrated has to be largely attributed to the play of our centers.
Without Hartings, the Steelers may have even more trouble running the ball consistently than they did last year, when Hartings was clearly on his last leg physically. It might behoove us to draft a center that we know will be productive for years to come. Of course, we did acquire Sean Mahan in free agency, but we brought him in partly because of his versatility to play multiple positions along the line.
Most mock boards have Kalil going later than the 15th pick, but it's all about needs. If we decide we absolutely must solidify our offensive line for the future, it's entirely plausible that we raise some eyebrows by taking either Kalil or Staley in the middle of the 1st Round.
Here's what I now know about Hartwig:
- He missed all but two games of 2006 with a groin injury
- He has LOTS more experience in the NFL than Sean Mahan EVER did. Hartwig has been a starter since year two in the NFL, starting with Tennessee, then with Carolina. He started 47 of 48 possible games in '03-'05, and 15 more in '07. Mahan's been in the league fewer years and has played multiple positions during that time. He started 16 games for the Bucs in '06, the year before coming to Pittsburgh, but only started 8 of the 32 games in his first two years in the league before that.
- It should be noted that all of Hartwig's starts have come at center, so it's safe to assume that we're going with him at the center position unless Stapleton or Phillips can beat him out in camp somehow.
- This move also has implications for the rest of the line. With a center now seemingly in place, what do we do with the guard and tackle positions? Can we assume that Kendall Simmons will not be switched to center? Does Mahan compete for a starting role at guard? Or, do we start Mahan at guard and hope Colon improves at tackle? Or do we move Colon inside, use Mahan as a jack-of-all trades reserve, and break-in a tackle behind Trai Essex, Max Starks and Marvel Smith?
We'll have to see. Here's the deal though, we have options guys. There seemed like absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel in regards to our offensive line situation in January. Things still may be bleak. It's not clear yet. But with the draft still ahead of us, it appears as if we may actually have more capable competing bodies than there are roster spots for them all. What if M. Smith returns healthy, we re-sign a motivated Starks, Kemoeatu develops, Colon gets moved to guard and progresses, Essex remains a viable backup option, Hartwig stabilizes the center position, and Simmons returns to form after a year hiatus? Well, things would be interesting. That's before even mentioning guys like Jason Capizzi, Darnell Stapleton, and whatever linemen we may have our eye on in April's Draft.
Should be a competitive, interesting summer for this particular unit.