Two weeks from today the Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the Dallas Cowboys in the 2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game. But we already know who has the inside track at winning the starting center job, or at least the slot cornerback job.
On Thursday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin revealed that rookie third-round pick Kendrick Green—wearing No. 53—will be the starter at center for the game at Tom Benson Stadium in Canton. The competition to replace perennial Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey is one of the most compelling training camp battles on an offensive line that features a position battle at pretty much all five positions.
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Tomlin: ‘We Didn’t Set the Bar Real High Last Year’
Asked about how he feels about replacing so many starters on that line, Tomlin quipped: “We didn’t set the bar real high last year. We were last in the league in rushing.”
While Tomlin went on to emphasize that fans and media shouldn’t read too much into who is starting in the first preseason game, it has to be a positive sign that the Steelers were running Green with the first team during the first practice of training camp, even if Tomlin tried to downplay the development.
“We thought it was important for the guys who are going to get starts in the Hall of Fame Game to get as much work as we can,” Tomlin said, via Mark Kaboly of The Athletic. “There is no indication in terms of where they are in their career. You can label him a starter if you choose. He is. He is the starter for the Hall of Fame game if that means anything.”
But Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger seemed to think that things went pretty well on Thursday with the new No. 53 leading the way.
“What happened today was Kendrick made calls, we didn’t fumble any snaps, so I will say that it is a good first day,” Roethlisberger said, per Kaboly, who also noted that Green was leading the way on a quick-throw bubble screen to wide receiver Diontae Johnson that went for a 70-plus yard touchdown.
Antoine Brooks Jr. Will Start at Slot Cornerback vs. the Cowboys
Meanwhile, it’s likely even more telling that 2020 sixth-round pick Antoine Brooks Jr. will be starting at slot cornerback against Dallas, as Tomlin indicated during minicamp that Brooks—listed as a safety when he was drafted—would be auditioned for the role.
Certainly, the Steelers need someone to step into the shoes of former slot corner Mike Hilton, who signed with the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency.
Like Green, Brooks got Roethlisberger’s attention on Thursday by intercepting one of his passes.
Another Steelers writer, Jim Wexell, described Brooks’ INT as a “sensational diving pick.”
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