PITTSBURGH — It’s not common for a third-round rookie to be a starter on the first rep of training camp, but not much that’s happening on the Steelers’ offensive line this season is common.
Kendrick Green, the team’s third-round pick out of Illinois, took reps with the first team during the Steelers’ first practice session of training camp on Thursday at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed.
Not only that, Tomlin said that Green will start the team’s preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 5 in Canton, Ohio.
“We thought it was important, those guys that we’re trying to get starts in the Hall of Fame Game to get as much work as we can,” Tomlin said. “There’s no indication where they are in his career. You can label him a starter if choose. He is. He’s a starter for the Hall of Fame Game, if that means anything.”
Green’s starting is part of a total overhaul of the Pittsburgh offensive line this season. Zach Banner is returning from the ACL injury that cost him all but one game in 2020 at right tackle, Chukwuma Okorafor has moved from right tackle to left tackle to replace Alejandro Villanueva, free agent Trai Turner is replacing longtime stalwart David DeCastro at right guard and Kevin Dotson is expected to assume the mantle of staring left guard after the departure of Matt Feiler in free agency.
As for Green, he’s stepping into the shoes of potential Hall of Fame center Maurkice Pouncey, right down to the No. 53 jersey number they share. That’s a tall ask for any player, let alone a third-round rookie that didn’t even play center the majority of the time in college. Luckily, Green seems to be focused on taking it one step at a time.
“You’ll never fill the shoes of Maurkice Pouncey and I don’t think Kendrick is trying to do that, which is good,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “Pouncey is in a class of his own. That’s what made Pounce so special. The relationship that we had will never be duplicated.”
In the one-step-at-a-time regard, Roethlisberger counted Thursday’s practice as a success.
“Kendrick made calls,” he said. “We didn’t fumble any snaps. So I’d say it’s a good first day.”