The Pittsburgh Steelers were delivered a difficult blow this offseason when long time center, and potential Hall of Famer, Maurkice Pouncey announced his retirement. Suddenly, the Steelers were faced with having to fill a gigantic void in the middle of their offensive line.
Heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, the Steelers had brought back B.J. Finney in free agency, but there was still a need to add a center in the draft process. Big name players like Landon Dickerson and Creed Humphrey were all mocked to go to Pittsburgh in the first two rounds of the draft. When the draft began, the Steelers selected Najee Harris in Round 1, and it looked as if Humphrey was headed to Pittsburgh in Round 2.
The Steelers went with Pat Freiermuth in the second round and didn’t address the center position until Round 3 when they took Kendrick Green from Illinois. Many Steelers fans were left wondering, “Who?!” but when they did some digging they found out Green played more guard in college compared to the center position.
When new offensive line coach for the Steelers, Adrian Klemm, took to the podium after the pick to talk about Green, he was asked if his lack of experience at center was a problem.
“Well, he played center, but he played at a high level.” Klemm said. “You are talking about a guy who took snaps in practice, but didn’t play a number of games there. There were two games that he played in, I think it was his bowl game and one this year where he didn’t even know he was going to play (center) in the game. But he was ready for it.
“He was making calls from the guard position. I think at one point he played next to a tight end. They ran through a number of linemen. They had three or four quarterbacks playing throughout the year. Just to operate under those kinds of circumstances and still play at a high level, it was just really impressive. And from a mental standpoint, I had the opportunity to go out for his pro day and work him out myself, feel his power, see the suddenness up close and personal. His ability to retain and just what he knows and his understanding for offensive line play as a whole was tremendous. He was very impressive.”
Talk about a ringing endorsement for Green as a player who has the look of an NFL center, but one of the reasons most assume he can step in and play at the professional level from Day 1 is due to his ‘nastiness’.
“It just sets the tone, especially at that position. It’s the belly of the beast. He comes out and he’s playing with that type of demeanor, that carries throughout the group. If we play collectively like that, it is contagious on the team. It starts with that guy, and that’s been the case here whether it’s [Maurkice] Pouncey, Dermontti Dawson, Mike Webster, whatever the case. I’m not comparing him to those guys, but just in terms of that’s the leader of your group. And you would like him to be the leader of your side of the ball. I think it starts with him, and if you have that, I think it’s contagious and it carries over to the side of ball as a whole.”
While the Steelers hope Green can be the center of the future, they also realize he brings position flexibility to the team. His ability to play both center and guard is a valuable asset to the team.
“We are looking at him at center, but he is more than capable of playing all three positions equally well. I’m just excited about his position flexibility and all that he can do.”
The Steelers’ dismal running attack is something the organization hopes improves in 2021, not like it could get worse, but the hope is Green is able to help facilitate the running game. Why is he so good in run blocking? Klemm explains...
“His ability to redirect. He is so athletic. He has great balance. You know, some people could say that maybe he’s too aggressive at times, but I’d rather be that than have to beg him to be aggressive. He just runs off the ball like I said before, he’s not timid at all and he throws his hands. He can redirect. He’s got feet with a good center of gravity. His change of direction is excellent, and he just finishes plays with a nasty demeanor and imposes his will every play.”
There is no denying Green isn’t a giant of a man in the middle of the offense. In fact, some might say he is slightly undersized for an NFL center, but Klemm doesn’t see it as an issue when it comes to his ability to handle bigger players. After all, when Pouncey was drafted many said the same thing about him coming out of Florida.
“He’s just explosive. He’s different in that way. There’s a lot of guys that are pushers and shovers. This guy’s a puncher. He can roll his hips. He can bend. He gets under defenders. He gets in defenders quick. Anything that someone may think is a disadvantage for him, I don’t see it being that way. I think his explosiveness and all those different attributes that he has are different. Things that can’t be timed. Those things can be beneficial and that separates him from his opponents that he’s going up against with a size advantage.”
When you are talking about a slightly undersized center, many time they struggle in pass protection. Klemm knows Green well, and he doesn’t see his pass protection as an issue in the NFL.
“You know it’s funny, and I want to say it in the most respectful way. Some people watch highlight films. I’ve watched two full seasons of him play, and just in watching his play, the times he’s had issues in terms of pass protection, it is him being a little bit too aggressive, but like I said, those are things that can be corrected. That because of his background of being a defensive player first, he just wants to put hands on people and I like that. It’s just one of the things you have to teach him to sit down in stance. Those subtleties that make all the difference and I think he’ll be fine. It’s just focusing on those things and improving that in camp, and we’ll be rolling.”
The Steelers have high hopes for Green, but the first step on his journey in the NFL is winning the center position. If he beats out Finney in training camp, it will be his job to control for the foreseeable future. If he is able to do just that, the Steelers will go from filling a void, to finding the answer in a matter of months.
Should be fun to watch.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the rest of their offseason workouts, training camp and the 2021 regular season.