Steelers Notebook: Hartwig has concerns about his future
August 27, 2010 4:00 AM
Steelers first-round pick Maurice Pouncey, right, goes through drills with teammate Justin Hartwig during the first day of the team's 2010 training camp in Latrobe last month.
By Gerry Dulac Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Justin Hartwig said he is not aware of any final decision that rookie Maurkice Pouncey is the new starting center, even though the Steelers' No. 1 draft choice has been working solely with the first-team offense.
Nonetheless, Hartwig said he is worried about his future with the team because he sees what is happening with Pouncey.
"Absolutely," Hartwig, a starter since 2008, said Thursday after practice. "Those are the things you think about when you're starting and, all of sudden, you got another guy playing in front of you. Obviously, you think about your future. That's the nature of this business.
"I've had the upper hand in these situations and I've had the lower hand. You kind of take things in stride."
Indeed, Hartwig only has to look at what happened when he signed with the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent before the 2008 season. After starting three seasons with the Tennessee Titans and two with the Carolina Panthers, the Steelers brought him in to compete with incumbent starter Sean Mahan, only to hand him the starting position before the start of the regular season.
Hartwig, though, said he wants to remain with the Steelers, who signed him to a four-year contract extension before the 2009 season.
Still, his future could be determined by his salary -- he is scheduled to earn $2,080,000 this season -- and that he really plays only one position. Hartwig, though, was a three-year starter at right tackle in college at Kansas,
"I don't have any control or say over anything," Hartwig said. "To my knowledge, no final decisions have been made. But I'm not worrying about things I can't control. I'm battling my butt off. I want to be a starter. I'm very capable of being a starter. That's how I prepare every day, regardless if I'm with the [first-team offense] or the 2s.
"At the end of the day, I want to be a Steeler. That's my goal -- to be here and contribute however I can."
Learning curve for WRs
After using him extensively at the split end, or X, position since training camp, rookie Emmanuel Sanders will play at flanker and back up Hines Ward in the preseason game Sunday night in Denver.
It is a sign Sanders, a third-round draft choice from SMU, has adjusted well to his assignments at split end and is ready to learn the flanker, or Z, position.
But it also means the coaches want to make sure he knows the plays at all receiver positions so they can get him on the field more quickly in case of an injury.
"Now I'm back to putting my thinking cap on," said Sanders, who played mostly in the slot and at flanker in college. "It's not about playing anymore. But I'm liking it. They put in a package this week for me, and I'm loving it. All the hard work I put in over the summer has paid off so far."
Sanders stayed in Pittsburgh after the off-season workouts and studied film of Ward and Santonio Holmes from every game from the 2008 and 2009 seasons. That allowed him to understand the concept of the playbook and adjust very quickly to his assignments.
Now the coaches want to give him and rookie Antonio Brown more to learn. Brown, a sixth-round pick who has been used at flanker, will move to split end against the Broncos.
"It will be interesting to see how those guys play new positions," coach Mike Tomlin said. "You got to keep pushing the envelope with young guys and giving them new and different challenges when they're successful with the ones you're giving them."
Tomlin said the only player who appears doubtful for the game in Denver is CB Bryant McFadden (pectoral muscle). He would be replaced in the starting lineup by Keenan Lewis, who has returned after sustaining a mild concussion making a tackle against the New York Giants.