By Matthew Marczi
With Monday’s confirmation that Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury after being placed on injured reserve, the immediate question now is this: who is playing center on Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals?
The Steelers signed center/guard Fernando Velasco yesterday, who started all 16 games last year for the Tennessee Titans, and was regarded as perhaps the best center currently available on the market.
However, the question is whether or not Velasco will be up to speed on the offense in time, as the next game is now just a week away.
After the initial 53-man roster was set, the Steelers chose to sign center Cody Wallace off waivers to replace John Malecki. However, when game time came around and the weekly inactives were announced, Wallace’s name was on that list, meaning the reserves for the loss against the Tennessee Titans were Kelvin Beachum and Guy Whimper.
The fact that Wallace was inactive could mean one of two things: either the Steelers are really satisfied with Beachum’s ability to play center (which he was of course forced to do for nearly the entire game), or the Steelers were unimpressed with Wallace’s ability to quickly pick up the offense to even serve as a backup.
Both of these possibilities, one would think, point to the likelihood of Beachum being the starting center for at least one week as Velasco gets up to speed. If Wallace was not up on the offense enough to even serve as a backup, it is a lot to ask of Velasco to learn the offense and start in just seven days.
Of course, Velasco has a great deal more experience than Wallace, which would obviously significantly factor into the equation. Wallace has 18 regular season snaps to his name, while Velasco has 19 starts. One would think that a starter could probably pick up the offense sooner than a career backup.
But what of the other possibility—the possibility that the Steelers truly like Beachum and his potential at center? For what it is worth, Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider came away from the game impressed, suggesting that Beachum’s best position in the NFL may ultimately be as a center.
The Steelers obviously believed in Beachum’s abilities enough at center to make him the primary backup at the position for Week One, so why should they hesitate to start him at center in Week Two? If he is to be the primary backup at every position, then he might as well start for now while Velasco learns the offense.
If he continues to play well at the position, then the Steelers can consider leaving him in there and allowing Velasco to serve as an insurance policy. In his press conference yesterday, head coach Mike Tomlin had the following to say: “as we prepare right now, Beachum is going to be our starting center, and we are in the process of learning what Fernando is capable of in terms of details and learning of assignments, not only him but Cody Wallace as well”.
Will that still hold true come Monday night? Is it just a matter of getting Velasco up to speed, or would the Steelers actually like to see what Beachum can do in a full game with a game plan as the starting center first before injecting a new player into the lineup? And will Beachum’s ability as a tight end play a role in the ultimate decision on a center later on in the season—at least until the tight ends are healthy?