By Teresa Varley
The hottest position battle of training camp came to an end on Monday when head coach Mike Tomlin named Justin Hartwig the team's starting center.
"It's a great feeling," said Hartwig. "It's good to finally have my role established on the team. I plan on stepping up and being a little more vocal.
"I put a lot of work in this offseason to get bigger and stronger and get this offense down. My goal was to be on the field, to get out there and understand the offense and make things run smoothly. I am getting a good grasp of what is going on in our offense. I feel pretty confident about it."
Hartwig, a free agent addition this offseason from the Carolina Panthers, battled against Sean Mahan throughout camp and came up the winner.
"We watched this battle closely," said Tomlin. "Both guys have done a nice job. Ultimately for me there is a level of comfort with his size, strength and range.
"We are excited with what he brings to the table. We look forward to moving ahead. You look around the AFC and the guys we have to play against and there are some big powerful men that play over center. I think this guy has the physical skill set to wage that battle for us."
Hartwig, 6-4, 312 pounds, started against the Bills and Vikings, while Mahan, 6-3, 301, started the preseason opener against the Eagles. The one concern that Tomlin did have is that Hartwig doesn't have as many repetitions and work with the other starting offensive linemen as Mahan does, having started all last season. It's something that Hartwig knows will come.
"It just takes time. That's really all it is," said Hartwig. "It's knowing where the guy next to you is going to be. Being on the same page when we see different looks where our thought processes are and what calls we are going to make. Just understanding on double teams how the guy next to me plays.
"Before you become a finely tuned offensive line it takes time and reps. I feel like we are getting better every day. I have been working with this group for a week and a half now. I feel like we have learned a lot from each other every day I have been out there."
Having been named the starter with one preseason game still to play is a big advantage for Hartwig, allowing him an extra week to work with the starting line and giving him one more game before the Steelers host the Houston Texans on Sept. 7 at Heinz Field.
"It definitely helps," said Hartwig. "We get one more game under our belt this week and we get a whole week of practice leading into Houston. We'll be able to see all of those looks that Houston is going to give us all week long. I feel confident about it going into the season now."
Notes: Mahan missed practice because of a personal emergency. He was at the team's meetings in the morning…Linebacker Larry Foote will not play on Thursday with a knee injury. Tomlin said the injury won't require a medical procedure but he would not speculate if Foote will be ready for the regular season opener against the Houston Texans on September 7…linebacker James Harrison made fellow linebacker James Farrior hit the ground and do 20 pushups after Farrior dropped an interception during practice. Harrison was not practicing because of soreness in his shoulder…punters Paul Ernster and Mitch Berger will split time in the final preseason game alternating kicks…running back Willie Parker did not practice on Monday, but was not injured. It was a coach's decision.