Steelers' two-time Pro Bowl center Hartings to retire

Updated: February 2, 2007, 10:39 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Eleven-year veteran offensive lineman Jeff Hartings, who made a seamless transition from guard to center when he joined the Pittsburgh Steelers as a free agent in 2001, has decided to retire.

Jeff Hartings
Hartings

Sources close to Hartings, 34, confirmed that the two-time Pro Bowl performer, beset by a variety of knee problems the past several seasons, will not return in 2007. Hartings' decision to retire was first reported Thursday by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which cited Steelers teammates who were aware of the veteran center's plans.

Hartings has deliberated retirement the past few years, including after Pittsburgh's victory in Super Bowl XL. But he noted following that game that a Super Bowl ring and all it entailed might keep him around a bit longer.

Unfortunately, for Hartings, his balky knees did not cooperate.

"He played hurt just about every week," said backup center Chukky Okobi, the likely successor in the starting lineup. "Sometimes you wondered how he did it."

Originally chosen by the Detroit Lions in the first round of the 1996 draft, Hartings, a former Penn State star, began his NFL career as a guard. When he signed with the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent in 2001, he moved to center and continued the franchise's strong tradition of excellence at the position.

Past standout centers over the past three decades in Pittsburgh have included Ray Mansfield, Hall of Fame member Mike Webster, and Dermontti Dawson, a seven-time Pro Bowl player many feel will someday be elected to the Hall of Fame.

Said offensive tackle Max Starks: "[Hartings] could hold his own with that bunch."

A six-year veteran who has been groomed to become the starter, Okobi has played in 77 games and started seven. But the Steelers also like second-year snapper Marvin Philip, a sixth-round pick in 2006 who did not play as a rookie. And, of course, there is the matter of a new coaching staff.

"I feel like I'm the guy, but we'll see, I guess," Okobi said.

In 11 seasons, Hartings appeared in 162 games with the Lions and Steelers, all but two of them as a starter. He reworked his contract in 2006 to help the team's salary cap situation, and had one more season remaining on his contract, with a scheduled base salary of $3.6 million for 2007.

An official announcement of Hartings' retirement by the Steelers, who have not commented on it, is likely to be made in the next few days.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.