Like many of you, I was pretty shocked when the Pittsburgh Steelers signed offensive lineman Cody Wallace and waived John Malecki on Sunday. However, after going back through some of the preseason games of both players and doing some research, I feel that I now have better understanding of why the move was made.
While Malecki did play much better than I expected him to do during the preseason, you have to remember that he is not a natural center and on top of it all, he is an undersized offensive lineman by NFL standards. Wallace, on the other hand, is a natural center and at 6-4, 300-pounds, he has the build and measurables of an NFL interior lineman.
When Malecki first arrived at the University of Pittsburgh in 2005, he originally played defensive tackle and didn't make the move over to the offensive side of the ball until 2008. Once he made that move, he only played right guard for two seasons.
When Malecki was signed to the Steelers training camp roster in August of 2011, the team started the process of teaching him the center position. While he did manage to stick around on the practice squad for a couple of seasons, he really didn't receive extended playing time over the ball in preseason games until this year.
While Malecki is certainly one to be considered an overachiever, new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. wasn't shy about talking about his weaknesses in an August interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
"More than anything it's his size and strength,” Bicknell told the paper.
Malecki measured in at his 2010 Pro Day at just under 6-2, and he weighed 298 pounds. While I don't have his actually measurements, Malecki does not possess long arms or big hands.
Wallace, who was originally drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft, had actually been on the Steelers radar prior to that draft as Ed Thompson of scout.com reported back in March of 2008 that the scrappy Texas A&M product had a pre-draft visit to Pittsburgh lined up that year. Whether or not he ultimately made that visit, I do not know.
While at A&M, Wallace was a three-year starter at center for the Aggies and Rimington Trophy finalist to boot. As for his strength, Wallace was a standout power-lifter in high school, and he did 26 reps of 225 pounds at the 2008 NFL Combine.
When you watch his game tape, you can tell that Wallace is much more comfortable at center than he is at guard, so he definitely will need to improve his position flexibility with the Steelers. However, being as Kelvin Beachum figures to be the first lineman off the bench should either David DeCastro or Ramon Foster go down with an injury, Wallace will be the backup to Maurkice Pouncey at center until the Steelers Swiss Army Knife lineman can master that position as well.
In the end, Malecki wasn't viewed by the Steelers as a legitimate backup to Pouncey, so that is the reason why they went out and signed Wallace, who they think is. Let's just now hope that we never have to find out just how good of center Wallace actually is or can be.