Carney/Clark Debate: With Draft Curiosity Excessive On iOL, Ought to The Steelers Kick Mason Cole To Guard?

With the success that Alex Kozora and Jonathan Heitritter have had with their debate series on Steelers-related topics, Joe Clark and I have decided to expand on that series a bit, entering into our own debates on Steelers-related topics that may be of interest. Two different minds,  fresh arguments…away we go!

Let us know who made the better argument and what side of the debate you come in on in the comments below.

Today’s topic is…

With the draft interest seemingly high on interior offensive linemen so far, should the Steelers kick Mason Cole to left guard?

Joe Clark — No, they shouldn’t. 

No, the Steelers should not move Mason Cole to guard. We saw what happened in 2021 with a rookie center in Kendrick Green. Do the Steelers really want to take that chance again? Sure, it could be different this time around. But the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Mason Cole was good at center last season. If you’re going to upgrade the offensive line, fix it with a guard. Don’t make yourself worse by moving a guy who has proven he can be a capable center to guard, where he’ll likely be worse, and replacing him with an unknown at center.

If Pittsburgh wants to move on from Kevin Dotson at left guard, and really, they should want to, then draft a guard. I know the team didn’t meet with Florida’s O’Cyrus Torrence or Minnesota’s John Michael Schmitz formally at the Combine, but they did at the Senior Bowl, and I’m sure they have enough confidence in what they gathered at Mobile to consider them with the 32nd pick. I just have a hard time messing with what works.

We all thought the Steelers’ offensive line was going to be an absolute mess last year, but largely thanks to Cole and right guard James Daniels, it worked and actually became one of the better units in the league in the second half of the season. Cole is a good fit at center. He’s a good communicator, he blocks well, and there were minimal issues snapping the ball last season. Plus, the relationship between a center and quarterback is important. Cole’s already built that relationship with Kenny Pickett.

Do you really want Pickett to have to worry about building a relationship with a new center in his first offseason where can truly prepare as a starter? I sure wouldn’t.

I know the Steelers pride themselves on having elite centers dating back to Mike Webster, and while Cole might not be that elite guy, he’s proved he’s more than capable of playing the position. It’s just not a position where Pittsburgh needs to make a change. If you’re going to draft or sign an interior offensive lineman, draft or sign a guy who’s proven he can be a plug-and-play left guard.

Let Cole keep working at center and developing his chemistry with Pickett. Moving Cole off his preferred position just isn’t the answer.

Josh Carney — Yes, they should. 

Yes, the Steelers should move Mason Cole to guard. While he was terrific in 2022, providing the Steelers with a very steady presence at center following a tumultuous 2021 season with Kendrick Green, this feels like a really good class for centers overall. And, based on the way the Steelers have shown interest in some of the big names at the position in the draft class like Minnesota’s John Michael Schmitz, Arkansas’ Ricky Stromberg, Wisconsin’s Joe Tippmann and even Ohio State’s Luke Wypler, it’s easier to move Cole to guard — where he’s played in the NFL before — and insert the rookie center into the lineup at a familiar position, rather than forcing the young interior OL that they might draft to change positions.

Though Cole has said he prefers to play center due to the leadership aspect that comes with it, there’s nothing that says that leadership aspect can’t move to guard with him. Granted, he won’t be the center of the offensive line, but he would still have a large role from a communication aspect. It would be a bit unconventional, but Cole could still handle the calls at the line of scrimmage from the guard position instead of center, which would take some responsibility off of a young center while still getting their feet wet in the NFL.

Cole is a better center than guard, but he’s no slouch at guard. Sliding him to left guard over Kevin Dotson and inserting a rookie center like a Schmitz, Stromberg, Tippmann, Wypler or whomever the Steelers end up drafting is more ideal than having that rookie try and move to guard or worse: sitting on the bench.

Moving Cole to guard strengthens the interior of the offensive line, putting two high-level leaders at both guard positions with James Daniels at right guard, creating a soft, stable landing spot for a rookie center to slot in between. Plus, it would provide left tackle Dan Moore Jr. with a steady veteran presence next to him, one that is a great communicator who knows the offense inside and out.

After struggling with miscommunications on the left side of the offensive line last season, sliding Cole over one spot would theoretically help clean those issues up, which would strengthen the offensive line overall.

The starting five played well down the stretch, and I understand the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage. But it’s about putting the best five on the field at once, and Cole at guard with a rookie center — presumably one of the guys the team has shown interest in to this point — accomplishes that.

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