Training Camp Position Battles: Center

There are four major battles for positions going to happen at this years training camp.  Center, Right Guard, 3rd Wide Receiver and Nickel Corner are all up for grabs.  I wish there was a fifth but the Quarterback  Battle while Ben Roethlisberger is out has been given to Byron Leftwich already.

Let’s start with Center.  There are three guys up for the job: Justin Hartwig, Doug Legursky, and rookie Maurkice Pouncey.  All of which have a legit shot at becoming the center, or at least I hope.

Center is one of the most important positions on the field. Especially in our division.  We play in the AFC North, where you are facing monsters in the middle.  All three teams have big guys at the interior positions.  One of the next big names in the NFL, the Ravens Haloti Ngata ( 6’4″- 345lbs) has a great motor, good moves and mammoth strength.  The Browns have Shaun Rogers (6’4-350lbs) who also has great size.  Rogers does not have the motor of Ngata, he is pretty lazy, but his size makes it hard to get him out of the hole.  Lastly, the Bengals who have the smallest guy of the bunch in Domata Peko (6’3- 318lbs) is still a force in the middle.  All three of these guys have been or are potential pro bowlers.  Thus the need for us to have a solid center out there on the field.

Option one is Justin Hartwig.  He has been the Steelers Center for the past 2 seasons.  He possesses the experience that the other two do not.  He was our starting Center for the Super Bowl victory over the Arizona Cardinals.  That playoff experience is always a help when building an offensive line.  Hartwig does have a few downfalls though when it comes to playing center.  He is not very strong and does not hold his own very well against the larger defensive linemen mentioned above.  He is going to be further hampered in this area due to his shoulder surgery he had in the offseason.  He is not healing as quickly as the doctors expected either.  This is not a good sign for Justin.  Hartwig also has some trouble making reads on the blitzes and making the calls for the offensive line.  He is normally in the wrong position when a blitz occurs.  He ends up needing help or not blocking anyone after making the call.  This is where a large amount of the sacks on Roethlisberger come from.  Hartwig is a decent choice but he is not a strong choice.

Option 2 is Doug Legursky.  Legursky is heading into his 3rd year with the Steelers.  He has spent the summer running with the first team since Hartwig has been out with injury.  He may already be getting comfortable with those guys and building some much needed chemistry at OTA’s.  He was undrafted and spent his first year on the practice squad.  Last year he was the second team center and filled in some at right guard.  Legursky is a stout, thick and strong center who can hold his own against the big boys.  His size is his biggest advantage.  He is shorter then most but is still heavy enough to anchor down the position.  He  is better against the run then Hartwig is and would be an improvement in the passing game.  Legursky is also an extremely smart football player.  He can make the calls and can read the protection.  Legursky struggled last year when he was put in at guard.  He is not swift enough to do the amount of pulling needed to stay at that position, so his name should not be brought up for that position.  He also is very raw coming out of Marshall and has not seen this kind of competition.  He would be a good plug for the Steelers and I think this would be a better decision then even a 100% healthy Justin Hartwig.

Pittsburgh Steelers first round draft pick, center Maurkice Pouncey, out of Florida, does a blocking drill during a training session at the NFL football team's facility in Pittsburgh,  Wednesday, May 26, 2010. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Option 3 is Maurkice Pouncey.  He is my favorite option but might not be the best option for the Steelers.  Pouncey is a center but he can also play right guard as he did in college.  Pouncey is the smartest of the three linemen and can make every single call and can make sure that everyone is in the right position when the ball is snapped.  He is only a rookie though and that may be too much pressure for him.  I still am not a fan of him moving to guard for a year but if it is best for him then I can accept that.  That being said if he is the best center on the roster then he should be the center.  He has the strength to anchor the line.  He also is great at pulling around the end, another reason to move him to guard.  Pouncey did most of his snapping out of the shotgun in college so his awareness with the Quarterback under Center may not be as up to par as the other two.  That is easily taught and can be put together quickly.  He would have a learning curve but I still like the idea of him playing  just center.

In a perfect world Maurkice Pouncey would be the Center and we would take our year one bumps and bruises then move on.  This would be the best thing for the chemistry of the team.  Pouncey and Kemo could get a good rapport to help us in future years.  Then we could work on the right guard position next year or maybe Foster or Urbik can take over for Essex this year and we are built for the next few years.  Who knows we might even be great if they progress to the potential we drafted them for.

What I think would be best for this years line though would be Legursky at Center and Pouncey at Right Guard.  If this works well and they gel and become dominant that could be the best thing for the Steelers.  This would be our strongest and best run blocking offensive line.  If we want to get back to Steelers football and run the ball down people’s throats then this would be the way to do it.

What I think will happen though is Justin Hartwig will end up right back where he was last year.  Tomlin will not make the change.  Pouncey will play right guard and then we will have to start this whole mess all over again next year.

Final Pick: Doug Legursky

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  • Edshultz356446

    Legursky is the guy, I actually like the fact that he is a little shorter at center at 6' 1″ because I'd rather have the guy that gets underneath in a one on one battle. I think he is actually quicker than you realize and whether Pouncey is smarter or not I don't know but he has been called a smart player by several vet linemen on both sides of the ball. So if he is smart ,his technique has improved and he's gotten the reps to develop muscle memory to bend at the knees, lets start the kid.