Q&A: Darnell Stapleton

The Steelers kept undrafted rookie center Darnell Stapleton last season, even though he missed most of training camp with an injury. This year, because of an injury to Kendall Simmons, Stapleton is working with the first-team line at right guard and with ...

... the backup lines at center. He's also the sole center in 7-on-7 passing drills. It's time to talk to a guy who's obviously grabbed the interest of the Steelers' coaching staff.

Darnell Stapleton, C-G, Pittsburgh Steelers

Q: You're working overtime these days, aren't you?

A: Yeah. It comes with the job. I usually don't get this much work, but going into my second year I was hoping to get more reps.

Q: How are you doing?

A: I think I'm doing pretty well. I've still got a lot of stuff to work on fundamental-wise.

Q: They want you to know both positions, don't they?

A: The more you can do.

Q: Doesn't a center have to know guard also?

A: Yeah. It comes with the position of being an interior lineman. You've got to know all three inside spots in case somebody does go down.

Q: How good of a guard are you?

A: I think I'm pretty good at guard. It's a little different. You don't have somebody right there on top of your head when you snap the ball. I'm catching on fast. I played that in the North-South all-star game in college and last year I got a lot of work during camp at guard.

Q: Don't you have to be bigger to play guard?

A: I'm around 310 now because of all the working out and stuff. I put on a couple pounds the right way. Last year I played around 300 and halfway through the season I was 305. I put on 10 good pounds and have taken about five off. It's hard. I'm trying not to let my body fat skyrocket.

Q: Are you capable of playing center in the NFL?

A: Yeah, I think I'm more than capable of playing center in the league. I need to work on some things technique-wise. I'm having a great offseason right now and I'm hoping to carry that over into camp.

Q: Has the year helped your understanding?

A: It has helped a lot. Going against our defense, with the caliber of player we have in Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith, you just get great work during practice throughout the year. It's helping me develop as a player.

Q: Casey gives you a break, doesn't he?

A: Still, when Casey's on his break he's still better than a lot of players in the NFL. You're always working. He's a big guy in the middle there.

Q: What did you play last summer?

A: I played in two preseason games, the last two. I tore my meniscus in camp the Wednesday before we were supposed to play the Saints. I had surgery while everybody was in Ohio.

Q: Did you make the team just on those two games?

A: I think it was a combination of what I did the first three weeks of camp; I had two and a half weeks of practice before I got hurt, so I think they went on a lot of what they saw from me before I got hurt, and then a lot of what took place in those preseason games. I was so fortunate Coach [Mike] Tomlin gave me that opportunity because a lot of times guys get hurt and they're pretty much S.O.L., so I was real lucky to have that great opportunity. I came back a little early off the injury but I was still able to perform.

Q: There were problems at the center position last year. Were you wishing for a chance?

A: I never really bought into us having problems at the center position. I felt a lot of times they blame the new guy on the offensive line, and the fact Sean [Mahan] was the new guy they pointed a lot of blame at him. But I sit in meetings with him all the time and I learned a lot from Sean and I think Sean is a great player. I think the perception people have came from looking at the new guy to the line. The other four guys were Steelers before so they were never questioned. But we had the leading rusher up until the last few games of the season, so you can't really say we had any problems up front.

Q: You still wanted to play, though, didn't you?

A: Oh yeah. I was active for the playoff game. It was exciting. I could've got in there. Hopefully this year I can be part of the 45 that dresses every week.

Q: Did the coach say you have to gain weight?

A: Me and Coach Z [Larry Zierlein] talked about it. He wants me as heavy as I can get without losing my quickness. He didn't want me to get too big, but around 310, 312 is where I should be at with the league changing with the 400-pound defensive tackles. In college I was 285 and that was good. I was able to move, pull, do all that and you had D-tackles that were barely 290. Now everybody's getting bigger, so the offensive line has to bulk up a little bit.

Q: Is all this work a signal of respect from the coaching staff?

A: I haven't proven nothing yet. I think they see me as a potential player that can possibly play in this league, but they want to see it in pads, preseason, actual games before they can actually respect me as a player. I don't expect them to say they respect me because I'm on the team. I have to earn the respect as a quality player.

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