The Pittsburgh Steelers have long prided themselves in having prolific centers on their roster nearly every decade since the 1970’s. Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson, Jeff Hartings, and Maurkice Pouncey make up the list of talented individuals who have delivered a football into many Steelers quarterback’s hands over multiple seasons.
With twenty-two Pro Bowl appearances between the four of them it is no secret that they have been catalysts on the Steelers’ offensive line during their respective tenures with the team. With an untimely injury to Pouncey, the current figurehead on Pittsburgh’s line of defense for franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the organization has been forced to take an unconventional approach to keeping their signal caller upright.
It is not often that you see a journeyman offensive lineman delivering snaps to your $100 million quarterback on a weekly basis, but the golden opportunity presented to Cody Wallace is one that he will take full advantage of as the 2015 regular season progresses into the month of September. Though he is no stranger at the position, this will be the first time he has the chance to be a week one starter in the National Football League.
A former fourth round pick by the San Francisco 49ers, Wallace spent time on six different teams between the 2008 and 2012 seasons. Picked up by the Steelers in 2013 he would see the most action of his six-year career as a professional. He would finish out the final four games of the season as the Steelers starting center after Fernando Velasco was sidelined due to a torn Achilles’ tendon.
Proving his worth as a vital addition to the depth of the offensive line, Wallace received a three-year, $3.48 million contract extension.
With Pouncey returning to his duties at center in 2014, he would be cemented into the roster as his primary backup. He would show his versatility on the offensive line by starting in two games for an injured Ramon Foster at the guard position.
The Steelers were only three games into their preseason schedule before Pouncey would be injured in the fateful play at Heinz Field that would see him carted to the locker room with what would later be announced as a broken fibula. Down one of their perennial Pro Bowlers, the Steelers have the luxury of a definite backup to Pouncey that they did not have in 2013 when he tore his ACL.
When the Steelers scrambled to find a replacement for Pouncey two years ago they settled on a player with no past experience with the team. Being a five-year veteran in the league did not make up for the fact that there was no prior chemistry with the rest of the offensive line. While there is no substitute for their All-Pro center, Wallace provides knowledgeable experience and depth that can get the Steelers’ offensive line through their difficult schedule this year.
In an effort to add to their roster of centers, the Steelers brought in Doug Legursky. Like Wallace, Legurksy is an offensive lineman that has the ability to play at multiple positions. Between 2010 and 2012, he started seventeen games at both guard and center. Legursky was the one to step up on the offensive line when Pouncey, for the first time in his career, was injured and unable to play in Super Bowl XLV against the Green Bay Packers.
Spending time with the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers before his return to Pittsburgh, many thought Legursky was brought in to be the definite replacement at center.
Wallace has been seen taking the majority of snaps with the first team offense and did so while Pouncey was on the Physically Unable to Perform list at the start of training camp in July.
While serving as interim center Wallace has the opportunity to become a leader on the offensive line. Other linemen will look to him to take charge and be what Pouncey has been that has made him the All-Pro, Pro Bowl center in his time at the professional level. His ability to adjust to the demands that come with being a starter will determine how well the offensive line does this season.
Wallace’s time as a starter could also be an audition to see how well he can handle taking on a position full-time. Ramon Foster is in the final year of his contract with the team and may not be retained if the organization feels they can move on without him. It could very well be Wallace taking on the duties once belonged to Foster at left guard if he is not re-signed before the start of the 2016 season.
Many may see Cody Wallace as just a backup player that will fill the void left on the offensive line until the return of Maurkice Pouncey. In fact, he is much more than the average depth player that can step in at any time. He has the opportunity to form himself into a success story, a leader, and the chance to cement himself into a full time role on one of the best offensive line tandems the Pittsburgh Steelers have seen in many years.
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