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Old 08-08-2007, 08:24 AM   #1
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Default Okobi continues to wait

No snap decision due as Okobi continues to wait
Chukky Okobi has waited patiently for his turn as the starting center, but most likely will have to wait a few weeks before he knows if his time has come.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers drafted Chukky Okobi in the fifth round in 2001, the same year they signed Jeff Hartings as a free agent from the Detroit Lions. Talk about poor timing.

After making the switch from guard to center, Hartings was twice selected to the AFC Pro Bowl team and was also named All-Pro in 2004 and 2005, continuing a legacy of Steelers centers that began with Mike Webster in 1974 and also included seven-time Pro Bowl selection Dermontti Dawson.

"For years, you feel like you're playing behind Michael Jordan," Okobi said. "Not that Jeff was at Michael Jordan's level, and not to disrespect Jeff, but how can you complain when you're behind a player like that?"

Okobi, 28, has waited a long time to get his shot at center, and it appeared his chance finally came when Hartings retired after the 2006 season. But, then the Steelers made Tampa Bay guard/center Sean Mahan their only significant signing in free agency. Mahan was with the Buccaneers when Mike Tomlin was their secondary coach.

As the Steelers began their third week of training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, it still isn't clear if Okobi will end training camp the way he began -- as the starter at center --or if he will be displaced by Mahan, who was Tampa Bay's fifth-round pick in 2003.

And it might not get any clearer for at least another week.

"That's not my call," Okobi said. "We only played one preseason game. We got four more to play. I'd be getting too far ahead of myself to think otherwise."

This was the week the Steelers were planning on juggling some personnel in their offensive line, most notably, giving Mahan his shot to work with the first-team offense. But Mahan, 27, has not been at camp since he was excused Friday for family reasons, and the Steelers are not sure when he will return.

For now, Okobi will remain with the first-team offense, though some other starters could get reshuffled for the second preseason game against the Green Bay Packers Saturday night at Heinz Field.

Max Starks, who played nearly the entire first half at left tackle against the New Orleans Saints after starting at right tackle, will spend most of this week at left tackle while Willie Colon gets some work with the first team at right tackle. Starks will back up starter Marvel Smith. Also, Chris Kemoeatu will get a look at right guard in his battle to displace Kendall Simmons.

Yesterday, though, Kemoeatu worked at left guard because Alan Faneca missed practice with a shoulder injury sustained against the Saints. The coaches consider all three positions -- center, right guard, right tackle -- open for competition.

"That's not my call; I just do what they tell me to do," Okobi said. "I don't put a lot of thought into other people. I don't line up against Sean. I just worry about myself and what I have to do on a daily basis."

Okobi has taken that approach since he joined the Steelers in 2001. He has only seven games in 77 NFL appearances, and five of those came in 2002 when Hartings' chronic knee injury was bothering him. But Okobi has appeared to be the heir apparent to Hartings, especially because the Steelers are scheduled to pay him $2 million this season.

Then, the Steelers signed Mahan to a five-year, $17 million contract in March. Like Dawson and Hartings, he was a guard in college (Notre Dame) who was converted to center.

"I didn't view it as anything," Okobi said of Mahan's signing. "I just saw that Jeff retired, and, from a number's standpoint, they had to fill the hole. We have the same number of guys. That's the only thing I saw. It didn't make a difference in terms of what I had to do."

The Steelers have established one of the grandest traditions in the NFL, if not in sports: They have had just three centers since 1974 --Webster, Dawson and Hartings -- and each had at least two seasons when they were voted the best at their position during their tenure.

Their legacy includes 14 NFL All-Pro selections and 18 Pro Bowl teams in 32 years. In the history of the NFL, it is difficult to find three players in a row who dominated a position, any position, with one team the way Webster, Dawson and Hartings did for the Steelers.

That is what Okobi -- or perhaps Mahan -- is trying to follow.

"I don't think it's nice losing Jeff," Okobi said. "But it's nice to get an opportunity."

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Old 08-08-2007, 08:52 AM   #2
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Default Re: Okobi continues to wait

Duplicate thread: http://forums.steelersfever.com/showthread.php?t=18562

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