CHAMPAIGN — Good news for former Illinois offensive lineman Kendrick Green: his new boss with the Pittsburgh Steelers is a fan.
“It’s really exciting about K.G.,” Steelers offensive line coach Adrian Klemm said. “He was a guy we had our eye on. We love the way that he plays in terms of what we’ve been talking about and in terms of changing our demeanor. I feel like the attitude we want to carry onto the field, he embodies all of that.”
Green, a All-Big Ten first-teamer this past season, was picked in the third round of Friday’s NFL draft. He went 87th overall and fourth among centers.
Green was the first Illini selected in the draft since 2019, when offensive lineman Nick Allegretti went to Kansas City in the seventh round.
On Saturday, former Illinois cornerback Nate Hobbs was selected in the fifth round by the Las Vegas Raiders. He was the 25th cornerback picked.
It is the first time Illinois has had multiple players selected in the same draft since 2015 when Jihad Ward (second, Oakland) Ted Karras (sixth, New England) and Clayton Fejedelem (seventh, Cincinnnati) were drafted.
Pittsburgh has a long history of standout centers, including Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and most recently Maurkice Pouncey.
During a Zoom call with Steelers media, Green called Pouncey a future Pro Football Hall of Famer. In more than a decade with the Steelers, Pouncey made the Pro Bowl nine times.
The Steelers are hoping that Green is the next long-term answer at the position.
“He’s just a tremendous player,” Klemm said. “He can do it all: the pulls, physical in the run game, pass protect.”
Green opened his Illinois career on defense, playing tackle.
“I was awful at defense,” Green said.
Green soon moved to the offensive line, where he excelled. He was a three-year starter.
“Coach Lovie Smith saw there was a need on the team and he knew that I could do it,” Green said.
Green spent most of his time at guard. His ability to play three positions added to his appeal for the Steelers.
Klemm also likes that Green has a mean streak.
“In critical moments of the game when man measures man, whoever you truly are is going to come out,” Klemm said. “If you have that dog in you, that wolf, you’re going to tend to do that. I love it when I find a guy that I don’t have to bring that out of and that he’s just naturally like that. This is just a guy that can do that.
“It sets a tone, especially at that positon.”
Klemm attended Green’s pro day in Champaign.
“I was able to work him out myself, feel his power,” Klemm said. “I was able to talk some ball with him. His ability to retain and what he knew, it was very impressive.”
Klemm saw Green’s leadership up close.
“He had a commanding presence when he walked into the room,” Klemm said. “He didn’t even need to say much. He embraced the moment. He was energized by the moment.”
Though Green has limited college starts at center, he and the Steelers are confident he can handle the position.
“Absolutely,” Green said. “I’m looking forward to stepping in and trying to contribute as soon as possible.”
Green watched the draft at home in Peoria. He had heard he would go during the second or third round and the prognostication was correct.
“It was a great moment,” Green said.
After the seven rounds were completed, Green and Hobbs were joined in the NFL by two Illini teammates.
Wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe and linebacker Milo Eifler signed free-agent contracts with Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Jets, respectively.