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J.C. Hassenauer was a player on the rise for the Steelers before his injury

The second year lineman was in the middle of the best game of his young career when he was hurt.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

J.C. Hassenauer was a High School football player in Minnesota dreaming of playing for Alabama when he was under 6 feet tall and weighed less than 200 lbs as a freshman in High School. Hard work and a growth spurt helped him end up a top center in the 2014 recruiting class, allowing him to fulfill his dream of playing for the Crimson Tide.

Hassenauer was never the starter at the beginning of any season at Alabama, but he played in 25 games including an overtime win over Georgia in the playoffs. Undrafted, Hassenauer was on the Falcons practice squad in 2018, joined the AAF in 2019 then joined the Steelers after the AAF shut down, spending some time on the practice squad.

Hassenauer entered the 2020 season as the Steelers #3 center, but ended up playing in all but one game, and starting 4 games. Hassenauer played 15+ snaps on offense in 5 games in 2020, the Steelers were 1-4 in those games and couldn’t score points. The games he didn’t play in the Steelers averaged 30 points a game.

I was a little surprised the Steelers brought him back, but in the preseason games he stood out, looking much better than he was in 2020. Hassneauer got a chance to play in the Steelers game against Detroit, and his replacing of Kevin Dotson lines up with the Steelers run game disappearing.

He started against the Chargers, and played well in the snaps before his injury.

Steelers vs. Chargers, 1st quarter, 14:21

J.C. Hassenauer is the left guard, second from the top on the line.

He’s no Kevin Dotson, but this is a solid rep from Hassenauer. He is able to move his man backwards, and while the defender is able to switch sides on him, it only opened room for Najee Harris to gain more yards.

Steelers vs. Chargers, 1st quarter, 14:21

J.C. Hassenauer is the left guard, third from the bottom on the line.

Hassenauer’s job here is to drive the line to the right, and he does that, taking out multiple lineman to create space for the back. Zach Gentry loses his block and that minimizes the gain on this play, but Hassenauer was showing good power early on against the Chargers.

Steelers vs. Chargers, 2nt quarter, 13:46

J.C. Hassenauer is the left guard, third from the bottom on the line.

This play shows one of Hassenauer’s strengths. He’s able to slowly walk his man backwards, and when the defender commits to one side of the play, Hassenauer drives the defender that way effectively, and on this play, that is enough for Najee Harris to convert on 3rd and 2.

Steelers vs. Chargers, 2nd quarter, 11:28

J.C. Hassenauer is the left guard, third from the bottom on the line.

This play is ugly. Almost the entire offensive line loses their blocks, and Hassenauer gets run over. Najee Harris does all he can just to get back to the line of scrimmage. It’s not really fair to Hassenauer to judge him harshly for this play, as it seems Kendrick Green’s man unbalances Hassenauer as he runs through the A gap.

Hassenauer showed in the Detroit game he can still struggle with bigger, stronger defensive tackles.

Steelers vs. Lions, 3rd quarter, 4:32

J.C. Hassenauer is the left guard, third from the right on the line.

Dan Moore Jr. misses a bit on his help on this play, but look how the defensive tackle is able to get control of Hassenauer and take over the run lane. Hassenauer does well when he wins first contact and can use a defenders choices against them, but when he loses first contact, he doesn’t have the tools to recover.

Steelers vs. Chargers, 2nd quarter, 10:40

J.C. Hassenauer is the left guard, second from the bottom on the line.

While this play call has rightly been criticized a lot, look at Hassenauer on this pull. He doesn’t manage to do anything to help on this play.

It’s clear that Hassenauer isn’t a starter level player right now, but he’s been steadily improving and looked significantly better in week 11 than he did the previous week. He’s already a solid backup center and guard and could be another BJ Finney for the Steelers. Watching the film from this past week I started to wonder if the Steelers would have been better off with Hassenauer at center over Kendrick Green, and while injury removed that option from the table, it will be worth watching to see if Hassenauer can continue to grow as a player when he comes back.

Sadly for Hassenauer and the Steelers, the losing streak continued, and over the last two seasons the Steelers are now 1-5-1 when Hassenauer plays at least 15 snaps, and 16-4 when he doesn’t.