Steelers Hope Kendrick Green Can Win Starting Center Job in 2021

Former Illini OL Kendrick Green got a welcome phone call from Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger less than 48 hours after being drafted by Steelers.
Author:
Publish date:

PEORIA, Ill. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have made it clear to new draftee Kendrick Green that they’d like him to compete to win the starting center position next season.

In order to make its third round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft feel more comfortable, the Steelers quarterback decided to welcome his newest teammate to the organization.

“I woke up from my nap and it’s a Pittsburgh number calling me and it’s Ben Roethlisberger,” Green said Sunday in his Zoom media conference with local and statewide reporters. “I answer the phone and he's like, 'Hey, it's Ben Roethlisberger,' and I'm just talking it up to him.”

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) warms up before a 2020 game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) warms up before a 2020 game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

Green’s next comment, his first ever with the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback, made Roethlisberger, the player who will possibly be accepting his snaps from as soon as this coming season, feel every day of his 39 years of age.

“I told him, 'As long as I can remember, you've been the quarterback for the Steelers.' And he's like, 'Yeah, way to make me feel old.'"

Green said Sunday, less than two days after being selected in the third round of this weekend’s draft with the 87th overall pick, the Steelers coaching staff has made it clear they’d like the three-year starter at Illinois to begin his professional career at center - a position he only made four starts at in his three years on the Illini offensive line.

Kendrick Green (53) going through Senior Day celebration as a fourth-year junior with Illinois head coach Lovie Smith before the 35-21 loss to Iowa on Dec. 5, 2020.

Kendrick Green (53) going through Senior Day celebration as a fourth-year junior with Illinois head coach Lovie Smith before the 35-21 loss to Iowa on Dec. 5, 2020.

Green had to make three starts at center during the 2020 season after returning starter Doug Kramer was forced to the inactive list due to coronavirus contact tracing protocol after Illini starting quarterback Brandon Peters tested positive for COVID-19.

“We're going to start working on center," Green said Sunday. "They liked the tape I put on at center when I did have to fill in for Doug. But overall, I think what it was is just the fact that, regardless of what position I was playing, I'm trying to go out there playing hard, trying to finish guys and put people on their back."

Green’s confirmation reaffirms what Steelers offensive line coach Adrian Klemm said late Friday night after Pittsburgh made Green its highest drafted offensive lineman since 2012.

“We like him at center but think he can play all three (interior) positions,” Klemm said. “It’s really exciting about K.G. He was a guy we had our eye on. We love the way that he plays in terms of what we’ve been talking about and in terms of changing our demeanor. I feel like the attitude we want to carry onto the field, he embodies all of that.”

While Green described the draft weekend process as “pretty nerve-wrecking”, the Peoria native said he began preliminary conversations with Steelers front office personnel last January that included a Zoom video call with general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin. Klemm attended Illinois' Pro Day workout in Champaign last March.

"Me and my agent, we kind of knew that was a potential landing spot," Green said. "They showed a lot of interest in the pre-draft process."

Green, a 6-foot-4 and 315-pound offensive lineman, earned Pro Football Focus All-America honors as a sophomore and according to PFF data, Green didn’t allow a sack last season in 226 passing snaps.

Green will enter Steelers training camp this summer needing to displace several experienced veteran offensive lineman expected to return to Pittsburgh for the 2021 season. Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh's 11-year veteran center who was named NFL All-Pro three times in his career, announced his retirement this offseason and 29-year-old B.J. Finney has only 13 starts in his 66-game career that has spanned the last four years for three teams including one previous stint with Pittsburgh. Kevin Dotson, a 24-year-old entering his second season in the NFL, stepped into the lineup in Week 2 versus Denver due to injuries to offensive guard starters David DeCastro and Stefen Wisniewski. Dotson, the Steelers second of two fourth-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft from the University of Louisiana, started four games in 2020, two at right guard and two at left guard. DeCastro, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, is expected to return as a Week 1 starter for the Steelers at one of the guard positions and the arrival of Green could also symbolize a possible swing option if injuries hit Pittsburgh’s interior offensive line.

“In critical moments of the game when man measures man, whoever you truly are is going to come out,” Klemm said of Green. “If you have that dog in you, that wolf, you’re going to tend to do that. I love it when I find a guy that I don’t have to bring that out of and that he’s just naturally like that. This is just a guy that can do that.”