Up until the early 2000s, the Steeler offensive lines were respected by all. They were dominant and played well together. Guys like Jeff Hartings, Alan Faneca, Dermontti Dawson, Robert "Cal" Hubbard, Mike Webster, and Tunch Ilkin were the bests of their respective eras. In fact, two of these men listed are in the Hall of Fame, at least one is on the verge, and two more should be considered when their waiting time is up.
The center position has long been the staple of these lines. Few other teams have had centers like Pittsburgh's and no other team has had the continued success as the Steeler's centers. It all started with Ray Mansfield in 1964, who centered the offensive line for 12 years and two Super Bowls.
In 1974, Mansfield took fifth-round draft pick Mike Webster under his wing, mentoring him to be the next great Steeler center. In 1976, "Iron Mike" got his chance and didn't let the teacher down as he played for 150 straight games and two Super Bowl starts of his own.
The Hall of Fame inductee returned the favor before he retired in 1990 by passing on his knowledge to the Steelers 1988 second-round pick, Dermontti Dawson. Dawson anchored the Steeler offensive line for 12 years, including several division championships and a Super Bowl appearance. Dawson has been a finalist for the Hall of Fame since 2005.
In 1996, Jeff Hartings came into the NFL via the 23rd overall pick of the Detroit Lions. In 2001, however, he signed with the Steelers, becoming their starting center through the 2006 season. Hartings, like his predecessors, helped Pittsburgh win several division championships and in 2005 helped the Steelers win their fifth Super Bowl.
The Steeler's present center is Justin Hartwig, who came to the organization in 2008 via free agency. Hartwig was drafted by the Titans in 2002. Again, like the men before him he has helped his team win division championships and a Super Bowl. Even though Hartwig has continued in the footsteps of those men, Hartwig is not considered a best of his time. The current center position is actually rated the weakest position on the Steeler offensive line.
The 2010 draft may have a center that can get the Pittsburgh position back on the map. The best center in this year's draft is Maurkice Pouncey, a 6'5", 320 pound center out of Florida. It is hard to say this early if he will be a suitable pick in round one with the 18th pick or if Pittsburgh can wait until the second round. Or could Pittsburgh get another Mike Webster in the fifth round?
There will be other centers that Pittsburgh could bring in: Matt Tennant/Boston College, Erik Cook/New Mexico, Justin Walton/Baylor. With the depth of this year's draft and the many needs Pittsburgh has, the Steeler's front office has a lot of work to do. Let's hope Mike Tomlin and company get the right guys.