- Scott Brown, ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter
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PITTSBURGH -- Steelers players are tight-lipped about who will start at center Monday night in Cincinnati, but all indications are that Fernando Velasco will get the call a week after signing with the team.
Velasco has made a quantum leap since immersing himself in the Steelers’ playbook, and his playing center would allow the team to use Kelvin Beachum as a sixth lineman/eligible receiver.
The Steelers had planned to use Beachum extensively in that role in the season opener, but the second-year man had to take over at center after Maurkice Pouncey went down with a season-ending knee injury.
The Steelers signed Velasco, who started 13 games at center for the Titans in 2012, and he appears to have a strong enough grasp of the offense to play against the Bengals.
“I’ve never seen a guy come in and pick up an offense that fast,” Steelers running back Isaac Redman said. “I haven’t seen him mess up one play.”
Velasco has spent so much time in his playbook away from the Steelers’ practice facility that he hadn’t turned on the TV in his hotel room until Thursday night. He took a brief break from studying to watch the Jets-Patriots game.
“A lot of the schemes here are the same ones we ran in Tennessee,” Velasco said Friday after practice. “I’m just trying to get the terminology down.”
When asked if he feels he will be ready to play Monday night, Velasco said, “No doubt, but we’ll see what happens.”
“He knows how to play," starting left guard Ramon Foster said. "He’ll be fine.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Beachum would start at center but he hedged that by adding, “for now.”
If the coaches are comfortable that Velasco has indeed been a quick study, it makes all the sense in the world to use Beachum as an extra lineman in Cincinnati.
The Steelers are going to need all the help they can get running the ball against the Bengals, and tight end Heath Miller still appears to be at least a week away from returning as he works his way back from a major knee injury.
That makes Velasco their best option at center.
“I’m just going to do my job if it comes to a situation where I have to play,” Velasco said. “I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself. I don’t want to be out there thinking.”