Another center steps into mix

The Steelers are looking for a replacement for the retired Jeff Hartings, and on Monday they began looking at someone other than Chukky Okobi. Read about this and several other OTA notes from Jim Wexell.

PITTSBURGH – Larry Zierlein prefers a big center, and Willie Colon just might be the guy.

Colon (6-3, 315) was the surprise first-team center Monday during the Steelers' seventh OTA workout. And while Zierlein -- the Steelers' new offensive line coach -- warned reporters last week not to read too much into positioning this spring, another contender at the position can't bode well for Chukky Okobi (6-1, 305).

Okobi, the backup to Jeff Hartings the last six years, doesn't see any reason to worry.

"Anything that's done here, I'm not going to take personal," Okobi said. "It's OTAs. It's not even camp. They're just mixing players around, playing with people at different spots in practice."

But Colon is yet another in an expanding group of contenders at the position. Zierlein said at the first minicamp that he prefers a bigger center, and that player figured to be right guard Kendall Simmons (6-3, 315).

Simmons is expected to get his look with the first team soon. Free-agent acquisition Sean Mahan (6-3, 301) was scheduled to work there this week.

Yesterday, Colon looked like someone who's never played the position, but he also looked like the bright, brawling backup right tackle of his rookie season. With Colon's potential, it's easy to understand why Zierlein began working him into the position "as an emergency," as Colon had surmised during the first week of OTAs.

Okobi hopes the job will fall to him, but his $2 million salary – and his unwillingness to take a pay cut – could put his roster spot in jeopardy. Still, Okobi remains confident he'll be with the team this season.

"I don't see any reason why I wouldn't," he said. "He's going to keep his best 10 guys. If anything I'm at least in the top 10. I'm not concerned at all."

OTA #7 NOTEBOOK

• Okobi played left guard on the second-team line. The second line, from left to right, consisted of Brandon Torrey, Okobi, Sean Mahan, Marvin Philip and Trai Essex.

Santonio Holmes returned after a week away. Missing Monday's practice were Clark Haggans, Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger and Brett Keisel. Mondays have traditionally been demanding days in the community for first-team players.

Lawrence Timmons again walked the sideline next to linebackers coach Keith Butler, who doesn't expect the first-round pick to return from his groin injury this week.

Butler remains high on Timmons, but admitted his pro day workout in front of the Steelers was "stiff," but that it had nothing to do with the current injury.

Butler understands what Timmons is going through. As a second-round draft pick by Seattle in 1978, Butler pulled his hamstring on the second play of minicamp and was done until training camp. Teams didn't hold voluntary workouts back then.

"The same thing happened to (LaMarr) Woodley," Butler said of the Steelers' second-round pick. "It happens to a lot of rookies. They don't understand how to condition themselves, particularly for the long haul. They do all this speed work now, but they don't do anything about their endurance.

"Those guys (Woodley, Timmons) don't know how to work to play in the NFL right now, and that's typical, but I expect they'll learn. As players, they already have two necessary ingredients: They can both hit and they can both run. I can't teach that, but I think I can teach them everything else they'll need to learn."

Hines Ward had worked as a punt returner last week, but on Monday gave way to Ricardo Colclough. Ward spent the session talking with rookie receiver Dallas Baker on the sideline. Baker was the one doing all the listening and all the nodding.

Verron Haynes has an excellent chance to regain his roster spot. Kevan Barlow is either bothered by an earlier ankle sprain or he's worn out from six seasons in the league. The other contender, Carey Davis, also lacks a burst through the hole. Undrafted rookie Gary Russell received some rare snaps Monday, but didn't touch the ball.


Steel City Insider Top Stories

\r\n\r\n\r\nPITTSBURGH – Larry Zierlein prefers a big center, and Willie Colon just might be the guy.\r\n

Colon (6-3, 315) was the surprise first-team center Monday during the Steelers' seventh OTA workout. And while Zierlein -- the Steelers' new offensive line coach -- warned reporters last week not to read too much into positioning this spring, another contender at the position can't bode well for Chukky Okobi (6-1, 305).\r\n

Okobi, the backup to Jeff Hartings the last six years, doesn't see any reason to worry.\r\n

\"Anything that's done here, I'm not going to take personal,\" Okobi said. \"It's OTAs. It's not even camp. They're just mixing players around, playing with people at different spots in practice.\"\r\n

But Colon is yet another in an expanding group of contenders at the position. Zierlein said at the first minicamp that he prefers a bigger center, and that player figured to be right guard Kendall Simmons (6-3, 315).\r\n

Simmons is expected to get his look with the first team soon. Free-agent acquisition Sean Mahan (6-3, 301) was scheduled to work there this week. \r\n

Yesterday, Colon looked like someone who's never played the position, but he also looked like the bright, brawling backup right tackle of his rookie season. With Colon's potential, it's easy to understand why Zierlein began working him into the position \"as an emergency,\" as Colon had surmised during the first week of OTAs.\r\n

Okobi hopes the job will fall to him, but his $2 million salary – and his unwillingness to take a pay cut – could put his roster spot in jeopardy. Still, Okobi remains confident he'll be with the team this season.\r\n

\"I don't see any reason why I wouldn't,\" he said. \"He's going to keep his best 10 guys. If anything I'm at least in the top 10. I'm not concerned at all.\"\r\n

OTA #7 NOTEBOOK\r\n

• Okobi played left guard on the second-team line. The second line, from left to right, consisted of Brandon Torrey, Okobi, Sean Mahan, Marvin Philip and Trai Essex.\r\n

Santonio Holmes returned after a week away. Missing Monday's practice were Clark Haggans, Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger and Brett Keisel. Mondays have traditionally been demanding days in the community for first-team players.\r\n

Lawrence Timmons again walked the sideline next to linebackers coach Keith Butler, who doesn't expect the first-round pick to return from his groin injury this week. \r\n

Butler remains high on Timmons, but admitted his pro day workout in front of the Steelers was \"stiff,\" but that it had nothing to do with the current injury.\r\n

Butler understands what Timmons is going through. As a second-round draft pick by Seattle in 1978, Butler pulled his hamstring on the second play of minicamp and was done until training camp. Teams didn't hold voluntary workouts back then.\r\n

\"The same thing happened to (LaMarr) Woodley,\" Butler said of the Steelers' second-round pick. \"It happens to a lot of rookies. They don't understand how to condition themselves, particularly for the long haul. They do all this speed work now, but they don't do anything about their endurance.\r\n

\"Those guys (Woodley, Timmons) don't know how to work to play in the NFL right now, and that's typical, but I expect they'll learn. As players, they already have two necessary ingredients: They can both hit and they can both run. I can't teach that, but I think I can teach them everything else they'll need to learn.\"\r\n

Hines Ward had worked as a punt returner last week, but on Monday gave way to Ricardo Colclough. Ward spent the session talking with rookie receiver Dallas Baker on the sideline. Baker was the one doing all the listening and all the nodding.\r\n

Verron Haynes has an excellent chance to regain his roster spot. Kevan Barlow is either bothered by an earlier ankle sprain or he's worn out from six seasons in the league. The other contender, Carey Davis, also lacks a burst through the hole. 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