On Thursday June 10 the Pittsburgh Steelers wrapped up their final week of OTAs, with a mandatory minicamp at Heinz Field set to get underway next week. Presumably, starting right guard David DeCastro will be in attendance at minicamp and will slot right in with the first-teamers at right guard. But while he was absent from OTAs, free agent acquisition Rashaad Coward was working with the first-team offensive line at right guard, this according to Noah Strackbein of Sports Illustrated.
“What stood out was that Coward never got replaced,” notes Strackbein. “For three weeks, he ran with the first team. It doesn’t say he’ll be the starter this season or even make the team, but it’s a good start for someone looking for a roster spot and a team looking for depth.”
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Rashaad Coward Has Experience As a Starter
Indeed the news of Coward’s signing largely flew under the radar, this despite the fact that he started 15 games for the Chicago Bears over the past two seasons. Meanwhile, more attention has been afforded to the addition of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard/tackle Joe Haeg, and the re-addition of former Steelers guard/center B.J. Finney, who, in the span of one calendar year, went from Pittsburgh to Seattle to Cincinnati and back to Pittsburgh again.
Never mind the considerable attention devoted to third-round guard/center Kendrick Green (Illinois), who is in the spotlight because he’s the best bet to become the long-term replacement for perennial Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey, who retired earlier in the offseason.
But Coward is probably comfortable flying under the radar. He was overlooked coming out of high school in Brooklyn, N.Y., which helps explain why he ended up playing his college football at Old Dominion in Virginia, where he toiled as a nose tackle. He went on to sign with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent in 2017, and made the shift from defensive line to offensive tackle in 2018, which gave him the opportunity to practice against first-team All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack. Finally, in 2019 and 2020 he settled in at guard, which appears to be his best position in the NFL.
J.C. Hassenauer Leads the Way at Center
With three of last year’s starters now gone—including left tackle Alejandro Villanueva (Baltimore Ravens) and Matt Feiler (Los Angeles Chargers)—almost every position on Pittsburgh’s offensive line will be closely watched during training camp and the preseason, but none more so than center.
“If you’re wondering who saw the most time at center during OTAs, the answer is J.C. Hassenauer,” says Strackbein.
“If they started the season today, it feels like Hassenauer is the starter,” he elaborates. “Kendrick Green isn’t guaranteed anything this season. B.J. Finney is the veteran with questions and Hassenauer is a rising veteran,” having started four games in 2020 as Pouncey’s backup.
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