The horn sounded to end practice, only Kendrick Green’s day was hardly over.
Far from it.
For the better part of 20 minutes, Green went through a dance across Chuck Noll Field that seemed improbable only a few months ago. A dance that may have to be his new normal if he wants to stick around with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Two years after a rocky transition from guard to center after being taken in the third round of the 2021 draft — a transition the Steelers essentially abandoned last summer when they brought in Mason Cole — Green finds himself doing what he can to get in where he fits in.
At the moment, that’s as a reserve guard and maybe — maybe — a fullback.
What Green claimed was merely an experiment during the team’s traditional “Friday Night Lights” practice last week has gotten a little more serious as the Steelers prepare to open the preseason at Tampa Bay on Friday night.
Green was a fixture on the field behind quarterback Kenny Pickett during short-yardage and goal-line drills this week. And while Green has stressed he remains a full-time offensive lineman who is only moonlighting at fullback, his post-practice routine indicates he’s taking it seriously even as coach Mike Tomlin stresses it’s far too early to read into it.
So yes, that was Green working on the JUGS machine with the reserve wide receivers. He’d try to wrangle a handful of balls — with somewhat mixed results — before walking 10 yards away and getting into a three-point stance to work on his get-off at the snap of the ball.
No, this is not the way Green envisioned his career going when the Steelers hand-selected him to replace Maurkice Pouncey after the nine-time Pro Bowler retired following the 2020 season. Being made inactive for 17 consecutive games — as Green was in 2022 — shifted his perspective. If lead blocking in certain packages or even catching the occasional pass means he’ll have a job when rosters are trimmed to 53 on Aug. 29, so be it.
“It’s a little bit more fun doing (moving around),” Green said with a laugh. “But (just) doing whatever I need to do to help the team.”
And help himself in the process. Green’s quickness and athleticism is one of the reasons the Steelers believed he could handle the responsibility of playing center after being a guard for most of his college career at Illinois. He welcomed the challenge of following someone such as Pouncey.
It’s one of the reasons he opted to keep his college number (No. 53) when he arrived in Pittsburgh even though it was one Pouncey wore during a career that could end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Yet things never really came together during Green’s rookie season. He started 15 games but struggled with the transition. Last summer, he found himself buried on the depth chart.
“Ideally, my rookie year didn’t go as well,” Green said. “I don’t know anybody who’s done what they asked me to do. … Not trying to make any excuses or anything like that. Just got to keep going.”
Green found himself making a cameo at fullback for the scout team late last season before a game against Baltimore, planting a seed of sorts that now could be taking root.
“This is the time of year to experiment,” assistant general manager Andy Weidl said Wednesday.
It also may be Green’s best chance to stick around. The Steelers overhauled the offensive line during the offseason, bringing in veteran guards Isaac Seumalo from Philadelphia and Nate Herbig from the New York Jets. Green’s spot on the depth chart is as a backup to Cole and given the flexibility along the line in general, nothing is guaranteed.
It’s one of the reasons Green has taken to fullback so enthusiastically. During his youth football games as a kid growing up in Peoria, Illinois, he’d have a piece of red tape on the back of his helmet, something all the kids considered too big to carry the ball were forced to wear.
There are no such restrictions in the NFL. And for a player who can dunk a basketball with ease and is remarkably quick for someone listed at 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, it makes sense to see what he can do other than snap the ball. It helps that he’s playing in an offense run by Matt Canada, who showed an affinity for tackle-eligible passes and lobs to the fullback while calling plays at the University of Pittsburgh in 2016.
Oh, and Green thinks he can throw the ball if necessary. At least better than fullback/tight end Connor Heyward did during practice on Tuesday, who sort of shot-putted the ball to tight end Pat Freiermuth for a touchdown.
“I don’t want to talk bad on (Heyward),” Green said, laughing. “But I can definitely spin it a little bit.”
Who knows? He might have to.
NOTES: Tomlin said second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett will get as many reps as necessary against Tampa Bay, adding that Pickett’s relative inexperience means he may get more playing time during the preseason than a veteran would.