PITTSBURGH (AP) -Sean Mahan knew what he was getting into when he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Perhaps he didn't know all the names, or be able to trace the lineage of his position back to the 1960s. Still, he knew playing center for the Steelers requires an uncommon distinction and a sense of responsibility.
A list of his most immediate predecessors explains why:
Ray Mansfield, 1964-75. Started on two Super Bowl-winning teams.
The late Mike Webster, 1976-88. Multi-time All-Pro. Multi-time Pro Bowl. Started on two Super Bowl-winning teams. Hall of Famer.
Dermontti Dawson, 1989-00. Multi-time All-Pro. Multi-time Pro Bowl. Once received every vote for the All-Pro team.
Jeff Hartings, 2001-06. All-Pro. Multi-time Pro Bowl. Started on a Super Bowl-winning team.
That's only four primary starters at a single NFL position in 43 years, with Mahan making it five this season. Sure, there were occasional game-to-game changes due to injuries, and Mansfield split time in his later years with Jim Clack, though Mansfield was the starter.
But there may be no other NFL position where fewer regulars have started over a longer period of time. Mansfield, Webster and Dawson each started for more than 10 years apiece, and all missed very few games. Webster, Dawson and Hartings combined for 18 Pro Bowl selections.
``Absolutely,'' Mahan said when asked if he knew much about the players who preceded him. ``There's a long, long line of Hall of Fame players and All-Pro players. It's big shoes to fill.''
Apparently not too big. While there's no Mahan-for-All-Pro campaign being waged in Pittsburgh, Mahan has slid into one of the NFL's most demanding lineman jobs with no apparent difficulty.
As Mahan said, he's not getting his name called on TV very much on Sundays. For a lineman, that's a very good thing.
``I'm not going to say I'm playing up to their standards, but I'm always working to get there,'' Mahan said. ``Hopefully, whenever I'm done here, I can look back and be proud of what I've done.''
So far, he can.
The Steelers are second in the league in rushing yardage and are fifth in total yardage, trailing only the Patriots, Cowboys, Colts and Packers. (Maybe it's not a coincidence those five have the five best records in the league.)
``These guys are playing so well, I'm really proud of them,'' Ben Roethlisberger said of his linemen.
Pittsburgh's longheld commitment to the running game was a primary reason the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Mahan, a former Notre Dame player, signed a five-year, $17 million deal with the Steelers in March. It also helped that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was a Tampa Bay assistant during most of Mahan's time with Tampa Bay.
``It was something that always attracted me to Pittsburgh, the style of play here - running the ball and stopping the run and, obviously, a lot of winning teams,'' Mahan said. ``Just the type players who are here, you can't beat it in the NFL.''
Mahan realized quickly what the Steelers mean in Pittsburgh. He was occasionally recognized in public while with Tampa Bay, but he's frequently engaged by Steelers fans.
``They're a little more hands-on here,'' he said. ``They'll approach you a little more, they want to talk football.''
While the 27-year-old Mahan competed with longtime backup Chukky Okobi for the starting job during training camp, it was understood the Steelers weren't paying Mahan to be a backup. Okobi was later cut.
Mahan can also play guard, but he is convinced he has found the position he's supposed to play: center in Pittsburgh.
He doesn't think that will change next season when five-time All-Pro guard Alan Faneca moves on to another team, as Faneca is promising to do. Contract talks between the team and Faneca went nowhere earlier this year and Faneca said this is his last season in Pittsburgh.
``Right now, I feel this is my position,'' Mahan said. ``If that (a switch to guard) needs to happen next year, so be it. I don't have any problem with it. Right now, I'm not even thinking about next year.''
Faneca's departure would leave the Steelers without their best lineman, but would end the confusion that occasionally occurs when Faneca is mistaken for Mahan, and vice versa. Both redheads have a shaggy beard and wear their hair at nearly shoulder length.
``He's got great style,'' Mahan said. ``Great minds think alike.''
Of course, Mahan wouldn't mind being mistaken for Faneca on the field.
``There's always a lot of areas where I want to improve, but I can't complain when we're 7-2,'' Mahan said. ``It's an offensive lineman's dream here.''

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