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J.C. Hassenauer Turning Heads with Late-Season Fill-in Performance at Center

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J.C. Hassenauer

The Pittsburgh Steelers felt that they were compelled to make a chance at center going into last week’s game against the Cleveland Browns.

Rookie Kendrick Green practiced minimally in the week leading up to the contest, and head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t feel that he participated enough to be a part of the game plan against Cleveland.

“KG is just too young of a guy to get on a moving train at the latter part of the week,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “So the decision was easy for us.”

But Tomlin is also fond of saying that one man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity, and with Green out, J.C. Hassenauer made his first start of the season at center.

“It was a huge blessing,” Hassenauer said after the game. “Any start, especially being a backup, it’s awesome.”

The Steelers’ line performed well with Hassenauer in there. Najee Harris set a career high in rushing yards against the Browns. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked twice and hit four more times, which compared to the rest of the 2021 season, is no worse than average.

“I liked a lot,” Tomlin said. “What I saw last night not only in his play, but in his communication. He did a nice job of communicating with the group and in identifying people both in the run and in the pass.”

Hassenauer’s play comes after missing time due to injury himself, and also after most of his playing time this season has come at guard, not center.

“J.C. brings such a knowledge of our system and the offense,” offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. “Certainly in the protection game, to be able to come in and step in in that role after not doing it all year, I thought he did a great job of making the calls and doing those things.

“He and Ben had a great rapport back and forth. I thought he did a really, really good job. I certainly appreciate how hard he played and how hard he works.”

With Green on the COVID-19 list, it looks like Hassenauer will get another shot to prove what he can do in the regular season finale at Baltimore. The journeyman center that was mostly a backup in college and once played in the AAF was not expected to push for Green’s job in 2021, but with a late-season opportunity, he may be doing just that.

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