Screw The Quarterback Controversy, We Have A Center Controversy
Following the Saturday night preseason win versus the Detroit Lions, the sports talk radio shows were full of calls suggesting that Dennis Dixon should be the starter over Byron Leftwich. The quarterback controversy is not surprising considering the history of Steeler Nation and the fact that Dixon did have the better game all be it versus a defense made up of second and third teamers. His quarterback rating was inflated due to the incredible yards after the catch numbers that both Arnaz Battle and Antonio Brown put up.
We have plenty of time to dedicate to a quarterback controversy once we see more of both Leftwich and Dixon in preseason, but lost in all that talk is the fact that based on performance Saturday night, we have a center controversy. I posted quite a while ago that the roster spot of Justin Hartwig should not be considered a lock and just prior to the game Saturday night, I highlighted the center battle as one of the things I would be watching closely as I wanted to see Hartwig fight for his job in limited time. I just finished watching the game for the 8th time and I realize Hartwig only received 11 snaps, but his play was pedestrian and average so to speak. Was it horrible? No, but it did not stick out either. The play by first round draft pick Maurkice Pouncey on the other hand was quite impressive. Pouncey showed awareness, strength and hustle on Saturday night. He also seemed to outclass the competition all night long. It was not even close in my opinion even though it was mostly scrubs. It was like he even started toying with them as the game progressed.
By all accounts, Pouncey did great with the recognizing defenses and making line calls, but it is so hard to take players quotes with any seriousness, especially when a rookie is involved and fellow teammates jobs are on the line. Let\’s face it, four of the five lineman starters on Saturday night have logged quite a bit of time with each other and won hardware with each other as well. There is no way they throw each other under the bus. What speaks the loudest is the game tape and Pouncey stood out the most on it.
The coaching staff had every intention of giving Pouncey the most looks at center going into the game and if the Monday practice reports are any indication you have to figure he will now get some 1st team reps perhaps in the second game versus the Giants. Mike Tomlin admitted after practice on Monday that Pouncey has elevated his status at center and said he was proven wrong about easing him in at right guard first. If he does indeed play with the first team in the next game and continues to impress, Hartwig should probably be thinking about updating his resume. With Doug Legusky showing he can play at the same level as Hartwig in a relief role, it makes keeping Hartwig an after thought. Hartwig is not an option at guard or swing man and would basically become an expensive, aging backup center.
The Steelers need every roster spot they can get on the 53 man squad. It is a no-brainer that Pouncey gets a spot and Legursky is hard to keep off as well because of his versatility and price tag. That leaves Hartwig holding a spot that could go to kick returner Stefan Logan, special team ace Anthony Madison or God forbid, a kickoff specialist. Come to think of it, there should be no controversy at all.