The writing was on the wall in the spring when the Steelers signed Justin Hartwig to compete for the starting center position with incumbent Sean Mahan. Now the writing is on the depth chart.
Coach Mike Tomlin said yesterday that Hartwig has earned the starting nod over Mahan and will anchor the line when the season begins against the Houston Texans Sept 7 at Heinz Field.
"We watched this battle closely," Tomlin said after a 90-minute workout yesterday. "Both guys have done a nice job. Ultimately, for me, there was a level of comfort with [Hartwig's] size and strength and range. In the short term it may create a little discomfort for us because we have better cohesion with Sean and some of the other guys because of their game experience and working together.
"Justin is new. He has to continue to develop that kind of relationship with the men he plays with. But we're excited with what he brings to the table and look forward to moving ahead."
Mahan was signed before last season and started all 16 games and the playoff game against Jacksonville. Mahan, at 6 feet 3 and 301 pounds, is not considered big by NFL standards and had some trouble handling the wide-bodied nose guards he competed against last season.
Hartwig, who is 6-4 and 312 pounds, gives the Steelers more size and strength at the position
"Look around our division and look at some of the people we have to play against, not only in the division but in the AFC, and there are some big and powerful men that play over center," Tomlin said. "[Hartwig] has the skill set to wage that physical battle for us and we'll move forward."
Mahan was at morning meetings yesterday, but he did not practice. Tomlin said Mahan received a phone call shortly before lunchtime and he had to "attend to a personal emergency."
Several Steelers starters did not practice yesterday. The most serious injury appears to be to starting inside linebacker Larry Foote, who has what Tomlin termed as a "sprain" in his left knee.
Tomlin said Foote will be held out of the Steelers' final preseason game against Carolina Thursday night.
"He had his knee examined," Tomlin said. "It won't require any medical procedure. But it does need to heal. He's going to heal this week."
When asked if he could miss the season opener against Houston, Tomlin said: "I don't want to speculate on that at this time. I know he's not going to play this week."
Other players who did not take part in the workout yesterday and are considered day to day include: quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (ankle), linebacker James Harrison (shoulder) and receiver Limas Sweed (knee).
Sweed was to have his knee examined last night.
One other player left practice with an injury. Cornerback Bryant McFadden left the workout with a quadriceps injury.
Tomlin gave running back Willie Parker the day off.
Safety Troy Polamalu lined up with the first-team defense and appears ready to play for the first time this preseason. Polamalu, who missed the first three preseason games with a hamstring injury, will play against Carolina unless he has a setback.
"If he's breathing, he'll play," Tomlin said.
Polamalu welcomed the opportunity to take the field before the regular season begins.
"I feel like I need to play," he said. "I would like to play. It was good to get out there. It feels good."
The Steelers placed injured punter Daniel Sepulveda on injured reserve and cut three other players yesterday to get their roster down to 77 players. They need to cut one more player by 4 p.m. today to get down to the NFL minimum.
Kick returner Jeremy Bloom, defensive lineman Martavius Prince and quarterback Mike Potts were released. The Steelers have to get down to 76 players, not 75, by the deadline because wide receiver Marvin Allen automatically will be on the practice squad as special exemption under the NFL international player exchange program.