Less than three weeks before the start of the regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are making significant changes on the offensive line.
This week first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey was promoted to first-team center after spending most of the spring and training camp at right guard. Although the move isn't shocking -- center is Pouncey's natural position -- this will have an impact on Pittsburgh's entire offensive line.
It's clear this move benefits Pouncey. But will it improve the Steelers' offensive line?
The AFC North blog checked in with Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. to get some answers.
Matt, let's start with Pouncey's switch to center. Good idea or bad idea?
Williamson: Tremendous idea. It's a no-brainer. Pouncey is going to be a fixture there for the next 10-12 years, and he can potentially be a special player. He's already their best player on the offensive line, in my opinion, and he will prove it quickly this season. Before long, I think Pouncey will be one of the better centers in this league this time next year. Can he handle all the O-line calls? That we don't know. But he is smart, he has a lot of experience at the college level and at a really high level, and athletically he's way past Justin Hartwig. I don't think you can allow those other guys with potential short-term problems get in the way of Pouncey, because he's a fixture.
So what's next at right guard for Pittsburgh? Hartwig? Trai Essex?
Williamson: There's not an easy answer, because you can't turn them into better football players. Unless somebody like Kraig Urbik would step up, which doesn't seem like it will happen, I guess you have to live with Essex. He's a little more experienced there, and he played guard last year. I think you give Hartwig a chance in these last two preseason games to see if he shows up as a guard. But I kind of think he won't. Both [Hartwig and Essex] were major liabilities last year. I'm not sure how that will change if you have Hartwig do something he's not as good at. I don't know if there's an answer.
With Ben Roethlisberger's suspension, Pittsburgh will start either Byron Leftwich or Dennis Dixon. Is Pouncey's move worth the risk of having a rookie center teaming with a new quarterback early in the season?
Williamson: I think it is. Pouncey is a way better football player. Maybe you get one or two more mental errors. But in the end, I think Pouncey is going to help your run game more, your pass game and ability to block Shaun Rogers, Haloti Ngata, those type of players. Pouncey is athletically and physically superior, and it's all in front of him. You can't hold back the long-term development of this line just because you're worried about the short-term mental thing. That's why you have coaches coach him up to what needs to be done. There probably will be some growing pains, but he still needs to be in the center of the O-line starting for the next 10 years.