PITTSBURGH — Illinois offensive lineman Kendrick Green‘s goal seemed simple enough: complete one Nordic curl by the end of his pre-draft training with offensive line guru Duke Manyweather.
Just one curl in 12 weeks.
But in reality, releasing his 6-foot-4, 312-pound frame from kneeling perpendicular to the ground to descending until his face mashed into the turf to pulling himself back to his beginning point required an immense amount of control — and strength.
The first time he tried it in January, Green wasn’t far off from completing the reverse sit-up. And yet, it still took working on the skill every week of his training before he finally completed the curl start to finish on March 8, yelling as he triumphantly stood up from the rep.
“For a 312-pound man to do it, not only is it ridiculous pound for pound, but it’s pretty impressive,” Manyweather said. “What people saw was that video right before that [Illinois] pro day, but Kendrick had been working on that and had failed every single week from when he started our program in January. That was his goal, to be able to do one to two of those before the end of our program. And it didn’t just happen.
“He’s so competitive, and that nastiness and that same mentality that you see on the field shows up in that competitive toughness in training. Lo and behold, 10, 11 weeks later, is him being able to do a full Nordic face to the ground and being able to pull himself up.”
Green’s dedication and work ethic to achieving a Nordic curl gives a window into his attitude on the field as the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ third-round pick and projected starting center.
“I would always try to get just one rep,” Green said. “That week, I finally got it, and it just showed stacking it, what you can do. I try to implement that into my game as well. Stacking days, each day get better and better until you finally get the breakthrough.”
A guard for most of his career at Illinois, Green will need to stack days as he transitions to center full time. The Steelers have been vague about their exact plans with Green, but in announcing the Steelers’ draft pick last month, Run DMC introduced Green as a center.
“We are looking at him at center, but he is more than capable of playing all three positions equally well,” new Steelers offensive line coach Adrian Klemm said the night of Green’s selection. “I’m just excited about his position flexibility and all that he can do.”
Green started four games at center, including three in the 2020 season. For Manyweather, a Dallas area offensive line coach whose clientele includes dozens of NFL players and hopefuls, the tape from those games proves Green will have little trouble making the transition to a full-time center.
“He’s a guy that on tape, played a lot of guard and played a very physical brand of football,” Manyweather said. “When he was asked to play center, all of a sudden, it popped off tape. This guy, he’s an undersized guard, but when you look at the physical traits and characteristics of what he can do laterally with reaching and cutting off and being able to hold up at the point of attack and get moving at the point of attack, you’re like ‘Oh man, when he moved to center, this may be this kid’s position.’”
Former Illinois coach Lovie Smith, who signed Green as a part of his first recruiting class, thought the same thing. Smith was part of the group that convinced Green to move from defensive tackle to offensive line after his redshirt season partly because of the backlog of defensive line talent.
Three months later he was a starter. And while Green was primarily used at guard, Smith believes center will end up being his ticket to a long NFL career.
“If we had left him on the defensive line, he could’ve been a good defensive lineman,” Smith said. “I just thought he could be a special offensive lineman. Most of the special offensive lineman probably could play defense because they have that type of athletic ability, and that’s guys like Kendrick.
“I thought he could help the team win a lot more being a dual offensive center/offensive guard. … Center was always his best position. When he had to play center, he moved there effortlessly.”
The same drive that made him successful in completing the Nordic curl also gives him a solid foundation as an offensive lineman. In the weight room, that drive manifests as he competes against himself and others. On the field, it comes out as a nasty streak when he flattened opponents on the opening drive — something Illinois center Doug Kramer saw plenty as his linemate.
“Right when you saw KG put a guy down, pancake someone on the first drive, you knew he was ready to play,” Kramer said. “For me, it was trying to match that and do the same things he was doing.”
The Steelers hope Green has that same effect on his new teammates, too.
“It just sets the tone, especially at that position,” Klemm said of playing with nastiness. “It’s the belly of the beast. He comes out and he’s playing with that type of demeanor that carries throughout the group. If we play collectively like that, it is contagious on the team.”
While Green spent years honing in on his offensive line play, the nastiness element can’t be taught — and inherently possessing it makes him a coveted player, especially on a Steelers line that lacked physicality late last season.
“You either have it or you don’t,” Manyweather said. “You can dial it back a little bit, but you can’t coach that and you can’t teach it. It’s a trait that’s not only just a trait, but a critical factor, in my opinion, for those that want to be elite offensive linemen. Just to be able to flip that switch and have that. You saw it with [the Jets’] Mekhi Becton last year. You see it with [the Bucs’] Ryan Jensen. You see it with [the Steelers’] Kevin Dotson.
“That’s something that pops on tape for Kendrick, that physical toughness, that competitive toughness and that ability and mindset to always be finishing.”
Prior to rookie minicamp, Green selected No. 53 as his jersey number, recently vacated when Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey announced his retirement after a 10-year career. Pouncey, by the way, gave his blessing, telling ESPN, “It’s just a number — the memories are never given away. My jersey number on every level after I left was given back out. It’s all a part of football.”
Jersey numbers hardly guarantee positions, but Green is setting himself up for behemoth shoes to fill if he follows in Pouncey’s footsteps and wins the starting center job as a rookie.
But if that curl is any indication, Green is plenty capable of setting lofty goals and following through.