Another experiment the Steelers will monitor is the move of right guard Kendall Simmons to center.
The team opened preliminary contract-extension talks with Simmons, Alan Faneca and Troy Polamalu, but are wary of becoming too involved with Simmons until he shows better potential at center than he has at guard.
The Steelers have had difficulty against teams with powerful defensive tackles across from Simmons because he’s more agile than strong. The team believes that agility could be put to better use at center, as it was with Dermontti Dawson and Jeff Hartings.
Of course, the Steelers signed free agent Sean Mahan to a $17.5 million contract just in case the move of Simmons doesn’t work. Last preseason, Simmons struggled with the shotgun snap but the team believes a full offseason at the position should correct the problem.
Unlike the Steelers’ stance with right tackle Max Starks -- who’s also entering the final season of his contract -- the team opened preliminary talks with Simmons because of the brewing problem at guard. Not only are the two starters entering their final contract seasons, but backup Chris Kemoeatu has yet to display an understanding of the offensive system, and the situation could only worsen for the third-year pro after new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians installs his changes.
The Steelers prefer a big, strong guard, such as Kemoeatu, and that’s why Mahan, a 301-pounder, would only be considered a stop-gap measure should Simmons win the job at center.
As for Starks, he’ll remain on the open market as a restricted free agent until April 20. Should another team sign him away, the Steelers would be compensated with a first-round draft pick. If not, the Steelers will gauge Starks’s physical condition at the minicamp.
According to a source with the team, if Starks is in shape, talks will begin on a contract extension. But if Starks reports close to the 400 pounds at which he reported last spring, the Steelers will let him play out his current contract.