Surprise in center competition

Sean Mahan will visit the Steelers on Friday, but the free agent from Tampa Bay isn't the only surprise contender to replace Jeff Hartings at center this season. Read below for the full story.

PITTSBURGH – Sean Mahan will visit today with the Steelers, who hope to sign the free agent and pit him against Kendall Simmons at center this spring.

The Steelers plan to take a look at Simmons, their starting right guard, at center in their first minicamp, which is tentatively scheduled for April 20-22.

It's an extra minicamp the NFL provides for teams with new coaches, and the session will give the Steelers a chance to look at players at new positions – such as Simmons at center – before the April 28-29 draft.

Simmons played center for the Steelers last preseason and struggled with the shotgun snap. The Steelers are looking for a center to replace Jeff Hartings, who retired after the 2006 season.

Mahan, a four-year NFL veteran, started eight games at center for Tampa Bay in 2004, before starting 16 games at right guard for the Bucs in 2005. He started 12 games last season, splitting time between left and right guard.

A source with the Steelers confirmed Thursday that if the team signs Mahan to a free-agent contract, he would compete at center with Simmons. The Steelers also have Chukky Okobi and Marvin Philip under contract.

Okobi, a six-year backup, is due to make $2 million in 2007. Philip was a rookie sixth-round draft pick last season. Neither player provides the team with the ability to play guard, a valuable commodity for a game-day backup.

Mahan, who'll turn 27 in May, is a 6-foot-3, 301-pound guard-center out of Notre Dame. He's visited Cleveland and Seattle as a free agent this month, but those teams are looking at him as a guard. The Steelers believe Mahan's quickness and agility makes him a better fit at center in their offense.


Kendall Simmons snaps to Charlie Batch at training camp in 2006. (AP Photo)

The Steelers hosted two free agents yesterday. Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack is being looked at as a guard and Alex Bannister is viewed as a special-teams coverage ace.

Womack (6-4, 330), nicknamed after a local pro wrestler by his mother when he was a baby, was drafted by Seattle in the fourth round of the 2001 draft out of Mississippi State. He's played all offensive line positions except center.

After making 29 starts at right tackle throughout the previous four seasons, Womack, 28, was expected to replace Steve Hutchinson at left guard last season, but injured his left knee in the opener and was used as a swing man upon his return.

Both players left the Steelers' practice facility without signing a contract yesterday, but the Steelers haven't ruled out signing either one of them in the future.

Bannister, who turns 28 in April, is a 6-5, 207-pound wide receiver who's caught only nine passes for 121 yards and a touchdown in six NFL seasons. He's considered one of the league's top "gunners" in punt coverage and made the Pro Bowl in 2003 on the strength of that ability.

The Steelers haven't been able to come close to an agreement with free-agent Sean Morey and believe Bannister could replace him on their coverage units.

Bannister was drafted by Seattle out of Eastern Kentucky in the fifth round of the 2001 draft. He missed the last two months of the 2004 season because of a broken right clavicle and then missed most of 2005 when he broke the bone again early in the season.

The Seahawks released Bannister in June of 2006 and he signed with the Chicago Bears, who cut him September 2. Bannister signed with the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 21 and played in two games.


Steel City Insider Top Stories

\r\n\r\n\r\nPITTSBURGH – Sean Mahan will visit today with the Steelers, who hope to sign the free agent and pit him against Kendall Simmons at center this spring.\r\n

The Steelers plan to take a look at Simmons, their starting right guard, at center in their first minicamp, which is tentatively scheduled for April 20-22. \r\n

It's an extra minicamp the NFL provides for teams with new coaches, and the session will give the Steelers a chance to look at players at new positions – such as Simmons at center – before the April 28-29 draft. \r\n

Simmons played center for the Steelers last preseason and struggled with the shotgun snap. The Steelers are looking for a center to replace Jeff Hartings, who retired after the 2006 season.\r\n

Mahan, a four-year NFL veteran, started eight games at center for Tampa Bay in 2004, before starting 16 games at right guard for the Bucs in 2005. He started 12 games last season, splitting time between left and right guard.\r\n

A source with the Steelers confirmed Thursday that if the team signs Mahan to a free-agent contract, he would compete at center with Simmons. The Steelers also have Chukky Okobi and Marvin Philip under contract. \r\n

Okobi, a six-year backup, is due to make $2 million in 2007. Philip was a rookie sixth-round draft pick last season. Neither player provides the team with the ability to play guard, a valuable commodity for a game-day backup.\r\n

Mahan, who'll turn 27 in May, is a 6-foot-3, 301-pound guard-center out of Notre Dame. He's visited Cleveland and Seattle as a free agent this month, but those teams are looking at him as a guard. The Steelers believe Mahan's quickness and agility makes him a better fit at center in their offense.\r\n

\r\n\r\n[MEDIA:408448]
Kendall Simmons snaps to Charlie Batch at training camp in 2006. (AP Photo)\r\n\r\n

The Steelers hosted two free agents yesterday. Floyd \"Pork Chop\" Womack is being looked at as a guard and Alex Bannister is viewed as a special-teams coverage ace.\r\n

Womack (6-4, 330), nicknamed after a local pro wrestler by his mother when he was a baby, was drafted by Seattle in the fourth round of the 2001 draft out of Mississippi State. He's played all offensive line positions except center. \r\n

After making 29 starts at right tackle throughout the previous four seasons, Womack, 28, was expected to replace Steve Hutchinson at left guard last season, but injured his left knee in the opener and was used as a swing man upon his return.\r\n

Both players left the Steelers' practice facility without signing a contract yesterday, but the Steelers haven't ruled out signing either one of them in the future.\r\n

Bannister, who turns 28 in April, is a 6-5, 207-pound wide receiver who's caught only nine passes for 121 yards and a touchdown in six NFL seasons. He's considered one of the league's top \"gunners\" in punt coverage and made the Pro Bowl in 2003 on the strength of that ability.

The Steelers haven't been able to come close to an agreement with free-agent Sean Morey and believe Bannister could replace him on their coverage units.\r\n

Bannister was drafted by Seattle out of Eastern Kentucky in the fifth round of the 2001 draft. He missed the last two months of the 2004 season because of a broken right clavicle and then missed most of 2005 when he broke the bone again early in the season. \r\n

The Seahawks released Bannister in June of 2006 and he signed with the Chicago Bears, who cut him September 2. 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