In 1956, the Steelers started a rookie center named Jim Taylor. He replaced a center by the name of Bill Walsh, who started the 1949 season as a rookie.
A couple of famous names, to be sure, but Taylor – a third-round draft pick out of Baylor – only lasted one year in Pittsburgh. Walsh, though, gained a modicum of fame during his seven-year career, all of which he spent in Pittsburgh.
Perhaps the great-grandfather of a tradition that counts Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and Jeff Hartings among its members, Walsh was a third-round draft pick out of Notre Dame in 1949. As a rookie with the Steelers he was named second-team All-League by the New York Daily News. He went on to play in Pro Bowls following the 1950 and 1951 seasons. In 1952 he was named first-team All-NFL by UPI, and in 1954 Walsh was named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press.
Walsh retired in 1955, opening the door for Taylor. No one knew at the time that more than a half-century would pass before the next rookie center would start an opening day.
This year, with both outside linebackers healthy, the odds should favor Harrison slightly because he comes from the blind side as opposed to the right side, where helpful tight ends are more often deployed.
"That's true," Woodley said. "But we're always competing."
A dark horse to sneak past both for the team sacks title might be Lawrence Timmons, a second-year starter inside who had 7 sacks last season.
"Timmons don't stand a chance," Woodley said with a chuckle. But he changed his tune.
"No, he does. He really does because Timmons now is playing outside and middle backer, so his chances are even higher now. I think Timmons is faster than both of us coming off the edge."
The other inside backer agreed.
"Timmons is really a dark horse," said James Farrior. "I think he's going to break through. He's going to have a lot more (sacks) than people think he's going to have. It's probably going to be a breakout year for him. Watching him in training camp and preseason, it looks like he's ready to go."
Yet, Farrior says he'd put his money on Harrison.
"I'm going with the old guy," Farrior said. "‘Deebo' still has it. If those guys stop holding him, or the refs start calling it a penalty, he's going to be all right."
So, the smart money rides with Harrison?
"I wouldn't say that," said Woodley. "If you were smart you'd take LaMarr Woodley. I've got Aaron Smith back and it's hard to focus on two of us. He'll flush them out and I'll clean up the trash."
SPEAKING OF ODDS
The Steelers are home underdogs (+2½) for the first time since they met the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2007 playoffs. The Steelers were +1 and lost, 31-29.
The last time the Steelers were underdogs at home during the regular season was 2004, when both New England (-3) and Philadelphia (-1) were favorites in back-to-back midseason games.
"Yeah, and we won both of 'em," said Hines Ward.
Does the team know it's an underdog? And would it matter?
"No," Ward said, "and no."
INVOKING THE LEGENDS
Tony Gonzalez needs one catch for 1,000 in his illustrious career, but Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was talking instead about the potential Hall of Fame resume of his own tight end, Heath Miller.
"I think he's the best," Arians told reporters. "I think Jason Witten's really improved and I think those two guys are the premier, true tight ends in both leagues. Tony Gonzalez's numbers are unbelievable, and he's a fair blocker. He's blocked well. But he was never the blocker in Kansas City; Jason Dunn was.
"I think as pure tight ends, (Miller)'s a John Mackey or Mike Ditka-type of guy, with more speed."
Farrior on why Harrison's still so mean after all of his success:
"That's how he's been since he's been here. He's always been that way. When he first got here we couldn't really understand him and we still can't understand him. He's a guy that always has a chip on his shoulder."