Next in line? Meet Marvin Philip

LATROBE – Jeff Hartings thought he misheard the question. "Does he enjoy it?" Hartings repeated. ... Yes. Do you think the kid -- rookie Marvin Philip -- enjoys blocking Casey Hampton every day in practice?

Hartings chortled.

"No, I wouldn't think so," he said. "I think Casey's one of the best d-tackles in the league. Fortunately Casey knows when to go hard and when not to, so I think sometimes he takes it easy on us."

Hartings likes Philip. Says he's smart and can handle pressure.

"Those are probably the most important things right now," Hartings said. "He'll get better at being a center in the NFL. What you can see is I think he'll be able to handle the stress of being out there in a game."

Marvin Philip is the Pittsburgh Steelers' new heir apparent at center. Chukky Okobi will be out indefinitely with a herniated disk in his neck and he'd been in line to replace Hartings as the next center in the great line of centers who've come through Pittsburgh. Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and Hartings have been the starters since 1964. The Steelers go through centers the way they go through head coaches.

"Oh, yeah, I know about the tradition," Philip said. "Dermontti Dawson, Mike Webster; they've had a lot of great players out here. Being a football fan I grew up watching the game, so I've heard a lot about them."

Philip is the Steelers' sixth-round draft pick out of Cal. Coaches and scouts alike praised Philip's camp work before Okobi's injury, but the 6-foot-1, 307-pounder still has a chip on his shoulder. He says he's been hearing things.

"There are a lot of doubters," Philip said. "A lot of people say I'm too small and not strong enough. A lot of people out here in Pittsburgh and on the East Coast don't get to watch us play on the West Coast, so they don't know too much about me. Hopefully on Saturday they'll get to know what I'm all about."

Philip is a 24-year-old rookie. He spent two years on a Mormon mission in the upper Midwest after his freshman season. By the third game of his true freshman season, he was Cal's center. But by the third-to-last game, he was out with a knee injury. He left for the mission and lost 50 pounds and his starting job by the time he returned.

He regained his job with three games left in the 2003 season. In 2004 Philip was All-Pac 10 first-team. In 2005 he was an Associated Press first-team All-American. He was also the team MVP and helped the Bears average 235.3 rushing yards per game, ninth in the nation. In the regular-season finale, Philip handled his cousin, Haloti Ngata, of Oregon, but the massive Ngata was drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens. Philip was drafted in the sixth round. Perhaps the chip on his shoulder is understandable.

"Haloti is definitely a big guy, 350 pounds plus," said Philip. "I figure I did well against him, so I can do well against other big players as well."

Philip, like anyone else, struggles against Hampton in one-on-one drills. And earlier this week Chris Hoke ran straight over him, flattened him. But Philip's working at it like a star rugby player, Eagle Scout, academic All-American, hockey player, boxer, baseball star and son of a mother who teaches math at BYU-Hawaii would.

Casey Hampton does not know all of this about Philip, but is impressed with him anyway.

"For a rookie he does a good job," said the Steelers' nose tackle. "He knows how to hold, you know what I mean? He's got pretty good feet. He'll be alright."

High praise from the big man. Hear that? Philip knows how to hold. It's not difficult to imagine Philip improving with every rep he takes against Hampton.

"I don't know about that," said Hartings with another laugh. "Sometimes it's good to just get broken in pretty easy."

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