By Mike Bires
Beaver County Times
August 3, 2011
LATROBE — Watch Maurkice Pouncey go about his business at training camp and there’s no doubt he’s a different man than he was a year ago.
Last summer after reporting to St. Vincent College, he was the second-youngest man on the Steelers’ roster. As a first-round draft pick, there was no doubt he had talent. But he was learning plays at both center and guard and no one knew for sure how and when the soft-spoken kid from Florida would fit it.
But this summer, Pouncey seems like he’s been playing in the NFL for years.
Buoyed by his amazing rookie season in which he earned Pro Bowl honors, he’s bouncing around from drill to drill with so much confidence.
“He’s becoming savvy,” said right guard Ramon Foster. “He’s become a savvy guy right now. He’s becoming more vocal. He’s becoming a leader. And he’s not forcing himself to be this or to be that. He’s just becoming a vet one day at a time.”
And he’s doing that once again the second-youngest player on the Steelers’ 95-man training camp roster.
Pouncey, the former Florida star taken by the Steelers with the 18th pick of last year’s draft, celebrated his 22nd birthday on July 24. The only player in camp younger is running back Jonathan Dwyer, who turned 22 on July 26.
“Maurkice has not changed the way he approaches things,” offensive line coach Sean Kugler said. “He’s a pro. He works hard. He’s a competitor and a finisher on every play. He’s one of those guys who doesn’t want to let anybody down on this team. He plays his heart out. He wants to be the best.
“He’s not the type of kid who will relax because of what he did last year. He’s wants to be better this year.”
Last year when the Steelers reported to camp, Justin Hartwig figured he’d be the opening day center. He had started every game for the Steelers the previous two years, including the 2008 Super Bowl season.
But as camp progressed, Kugler, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and coach Tom Tomlin came to the conclusion that they were wasting Pouncey’s time by giving him reps at guard. He was playing well at center. So Pouncey moved into the starting role and Hartwig was cut.
Not only did Pouncey start every game last season except the Super Bowl, he was the Steelers’ only offensive player named to the Pro Bowl. He also received two of the 50 votes for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Naturally, he’s being hailed as the next great center in Steelers’ history. He’s being mentioned in the same breath as the late Mike Webster, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Dermontti Dawson, a Hall of Fame candidate.
“I don’t know. I don’t think I did as well as everybody thought I did,” Pouncey said. “I mean, I got a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of pressure on me this year to pick up where I left off last year. But I’m ready for it.”
At 6-foot-4 and 304 pounds, Pouncey has size and strength. He’s also extremely quick and agile for a man his size. He’s a master technician who understands leverage. He’s an intelligent player who has a complete understanding of the Pittsburgh offense.
“He wowed everybody last year, and I expect him to be even better this year,” Foster said.
“He knows how to play the game,” said nose tackle Casey Hampton, who goes up against Pouncey every day at practice. “The sky’s the limit for this kid.”
Pouncey, whose twin brother Mike was taken with the 15th overall pick of this year’s draft by Miami, says he’s determined to avoid a second-year slump.
“I’m going to work hard,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to be better than I was last year.”