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Old 08-08-2008, 07:10 AM   #1
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Unhappy Steelers Mahan defends starting spot

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pitt.../s_581739.html

Steelers Mahan defends starting spot
By Scott Brown
TRIBUNE-REVIEW

Friday, August 8, 2008

Justin Hartwig had a small camera crew shadowing him at training camp last week. One of the newest Steelers players is the subject of what he and a production company hope becomes a documentary about life as an NFL player.

"I figured either way it would be a good idea to have footage for years down the road that my kids could look at some day," Hartwig said.

The people who have filmed him for more than a year aren't the only ones watching Hartwig closely.

The seventh-year veteran is locked into the Steelers' most significant training camp competition, one that takes center stage today when the Philadelphia Eagles visit Heinz Field for a 7:30 p.m. preseason game.

Hartwig is trying to unseat incumbent Sean Mahan at a position that fell well short of the standard of excellence established by past Steelers centers such as Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and Jeff Hartings.

Mahan, who started every game at center last season for the Steelers, will play with the first-team offense against the Eagles. Hartwig, the team's biggest free-agent signing this offseason, will work with the starters Thursday, when the Steelers play the Buffalo Bills in Toronto.

"I think that will give us more of an indication of (how) this thing is going to go," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of the first two preseason games. "I think both guys have shown some good things thus far in camp."

Mahan and Hartwig said the coaches haven't told them much about the competition that Tomlin called "hotly contested."

What doesn't have to be said is that the Steelers need better play from the center position this season.

The 6-foot-3, 301-pound Mahan was physically overpowered at times in 2007, and his struggles contributed to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger getting sacked 47 times in 15 regular-season games.

"There were good things and bad things, as always," Mahan said of his play last season.

Mahan, who signed with the Steelers in March 2007, became a lightning rod for fan criticism last season, but offensive line coach Larry Zierlein said he played better than people think.

"We're not listening to the fans," Zierlein said. "Sean did fine for us last year."

Mahan said he worked on improving his strength as well as polishing his blocking techniques during the offseason.

Hartwig, for his part, said he hasn't felt this good physically since he helped anchor the Tennessee Titans' offensive line from 2003-05 before signing with the Carolina Panthers in 2006.

He battled groin and hip injuries his first season in Carolina. The 6-4, 312-pounder said he spent so much time rehabilitating prior to last season that he wasn't nearly as strong as he had been in previous years.

Hartwig still started 15 games for the Panthers in 2007, but Carolina released him after the season, in part because it had taken highly touted center Ryan Khalil in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft.

"I feel like I've got my size and my strength back right now because I've had a whole offseason to get stronger," Hartwig said. "My body feels good right now, and that is key for me."
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Old 08-08-2008, 07:15 AM   #2
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Default Re: Steelers Mahan defends starting spot

Mahan had some huge shoes to fill replacing Hartings at C and I think it has been well established that Mahan is no Jeff Hartings. However, Mahan became the scapegoat for that OL, imho. The entire line was responsible for most of Ben's sacks due to their overall poor play as a unit, not just Mahan, though he took the brunt of the criticism. Obviously Zierlein sees in him what some fans don't and that is why he is an NFL coach and we're just spectators.
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Old 08-08-2008, 07:17 AM   #3
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Default Re: Steelers Mahan defends starting spot

So true, but still think Hartwig is better at it, being he is a natural C. Mahan is a natural G.
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Old 08-08-2008, 07:27 AM   #4
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Default Re: Steelers Mahan defends starting spot

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So true, but still think Hartwig is better at it, being he is a natural C. Mahan is a natural G.
Oh I know Mahan is a natural G and I thought quite possibly, the Steelers would utilize his G experience this season, but they obviously have other plans for him. We'll have a chance to watch both of them and may the best man win!
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Old 08-08-2008, 07:50 AM   #5
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Default Re: Steelers Mahan defends starting spot

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So true, but still think Hartwig is better at it, being he is a natural C. Mahan is a natural G.
I believe Hartwig also started as a guard.

Mahan is smaller. There's no denying that. Picking up a nose tackle that demands a double team is going to be a problem for anyone who isn't getting help. Having poor tackle play just compounds the problem if the guards are looking outside even though their assignment my be to help chip inside.imo
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Old 08-08-2008, 08:03 AM   #6
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Default Re: Steelers Mahan defends starting spot

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Mahan said he worked on improving his strength as well as polishing his blocking techniques during the offseason.
I hope he didn't just "work on" improving his strength, but actually DID improve it. One of his biggest problems is being overpowered.
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Old 08-08-2008, 08:51 AM   #7
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Default Re: Steelers Mahan defends starting spot

I know that is one position I will be watching closely tonight.
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Old 08-08-2008, 09:04 AM   #8
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Default Re: Steelers Mahan defends starting spot

Mahan has looked fine in practice, but it looks like he already lost 10 pounds between the first practice and the last one. If he's dropping a couple pounds a week, he'll be back down to 270 which is about where he ended up last year by mid-season. I don't know how he's gonna do it, but if he really wants to compete for the starting job, he needs to find some way to keep the weight on.
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Old 08-08-2008, 09:38 AM   #9
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Default Re: Steelers Mahan defends starting spot

The way I see it, Hartwig was supposed to be an upgrade, but Mahan beats him out, then the best guy won the starting spot. Hartwig is bigger and stronger, though, so...

I can't see us opening againstHouston with Mahan at C. Just can't see that happening...
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Old 08-08-2008, 09:59 AM   #10
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Default Re: Steelers Mahan defends starting spot

I honestly hope Mahan doesnt beat out Hartwig. In that case it should mean Hartwig is flawed or not back to any form. The Buccaneer fans always complained about Mahan's lack of strength and inability to handle the bigger DT's that they faced......and we now have the same issue.

Mahan is good at getting angles and getting to the 2nd level, but not in handling the big NT's we are gonna see more of. If neither of these guys is the answer, its gonna be time to draft Alex Mack from Cal next season.
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