6 best Steelers free agent signings under Kevin Colbert
By Brendan Howe
In relation to blocking exemplars such as “Iron Mike” Webster and Dermontti Dawson, Jeff Hartings’ period in black and gold is undervalued.
Coming out of Penn State as a first-round selection in 1996, Hartings was one of five Hall of Famers chosen in that year’s draft. As a Detroit Lion, he aided in paving the way Barry Sanders’ final three years. Then slotted as a right guard, Hartings opened holes for the six-time All-Pro’s 2,000-yard single-season effort in 1997.
In 2001, Matt Millen was brought on as the Lions’ president and chief executive officer. With no prior front office experience, he made extensive changes that played a large part in Hartings wanting out. Shortly after, the lineman turned down a larger signing bonus from Detroit to take the place of the recently retired Dawson.
Hartings also visited the Arizona in his free agency, but the appeal of blocking for Jerome Bettis, then a four-time Pro Bowler, closed the six-year deal and the shift to center in the Steel City.
Hartings fit the Steelers’ fabled blocking mold as the fulcrum of the offensive line from 2001-2006. He helped widen running lanes for Bettis and Willie Parker, both of whom enjoyed a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons behind him.
In all but one of his campaigns in Pittsburgh, the team’s rushing offense finished within the top third of the league. With Hartings snapping the ball, the Steelers led the league on the ground in 2001 and secured a Lombardi Trophy in 2005.