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Omar Khan Again Insists Steelers Are Comfortable with Internal Center Options

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Pittsburgh Steelers QB Nate Herbig
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Nate Herbig snaps the ball during warmups on Nov. 26, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — With just a few weeks to go before the 2024 NFL Draft, Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Omar Khan is sticking to his guns when it comes to his largely vacant center depth chart.

Khan has insisted all offseason that the Steelers are comfortable with their internal options at center, despite the team listing only one player — two-year practice squad player Ryan McCollum — as a center on their 90-man offseason roster.

The Steelers released two-year starter Mason Cole earlier this offseason and never replaced him with an NFL veteran. The Steelers have some internal options, but none that have consistently started at center in the NFL.

“Certainly, it’s an important position,” Khan said. “I’ve mentioned this before, but we have guys on the roster that have flexibility. We have options there. But there’s some good players at the position (in the draft class). We’ll see where it shakes out.”

The internal options are Nate Herbig, who played 156 snaps of guard for the Steelers as their top interior backup last season. He played 49 snaps of center between the 2020 and 2021 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, but not since. James Daniels, the team’s starting right guard, has also played some center in his past, but not since he split time between left guard and center with the Chicago Bears in 2019.

Last year’s seventh-round pick Spencer Anderson played some center in practice last year and took five reps in the preseason. He spent four games as the starter at center for Maryland in 2021.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said the team doesn’t feel particularly thirsty at any one position in this draft class, and Khan said there are a number of players at the position that could be starters this season.

“There’s a handful of centers, a number of players at the position that are going to be starters in the NFL this year,” Khan said.

That suggests that he sees a deeper pool of options than the obvious Day One picks. The Steelers shown interest in former Duke tackle Graham Barton and Oregon center Jackson-Powers Johnson in the first round, West Virginia’s Zach Frazier and Georgia’s Sedrick Van Pran on Day Two and Penn State’s Hunter Nourzad in Day Three.

Pittsburgh Steelers Graham Barton

Graham Barton, Duke Athletics

Barton is an interesting prospect, because he spent his freshman season at Duke at center before moving to tackle. But with 32 7/8-inch arms, he’s shorter than the usual threshold for playing that position at the NFL level. The Steelers have had some luck in the past with moving players along the offensive line after playing a different position in college, but most recently failed to succeed after they projected ex-Illinois guard Kendrick Green to be a starting center.

Tomlin broke down what the team is looking for in terms of projecting a player to be a center at the next level.

“You know, usually there’s some intellect things in terms of front identification and so forth, communication-oriented things, and you have to show an aptitude for that,” he said. “And preferably they have something in their background, whether they were a back up guy that did it in practice and you didn’t see him do it in the game, or maybe a guy that maybe did it as a young guy, and evolved to other positions as they’ve gotten older. Usually there’s a history of some kind there, and an aptitude there that allows you to make those assumptions.”

Tomlin also said that while there are benchmarks for the size players usually have to be to succeed at the next level, he doesn’t see those as hard-and-fast rules.

“Those are just guidelines,” he said. “There are exceptions to every rule. There are short tackles, there are tall centers.”

That could mean the Steelers see Barton as more than just a potential NFL center. The Steelers are also looking at upgrading their tackle position and only have Daniels under contract for one more season at right guard.

Either way, it seems the Steelers are confident in their internal options and in the depth of this center class to come away with solid depth from a position where they currently have near none.