Pouncey wants to 'move off' Hernandez topic
Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey arrived at training camp Friday prepared to deal with the lingering controversy surrounding former New England tight end Aaron Hernandez, who has been charged with first-degree murder.
A couple of weeks ago at a Miami nightclub, Pouncey was pictured wearing a baseball cap signaling his support for Hernandez, a former Florida teammate of his. Written on the cap were the words, “Free Hernandez.”
“I understand it was a serious situation, and I apologize if I offended anyone,” Pouncey told reporters as he checked into training camp at St. Vincent. “I'm here to play football, and let's move off from that.
“I know I took a lot of heat for it, and I probably should have. I understand what happened. It's pretty cool now, and I'll let things blow away.”
Pouncey's teammates, too, are hoping his addressing the incident will defuse any possible distractions.
“We don't want any negative press during training camp, so for (Pouncey) to address it right now and get it out of the way was big of him,” running back Isaac Redman said. “It also shows how he's matured.”
“Pouncey is my friend, and he's like a brother,” second-year offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum said. “What happened with Hernandez is his issue, but as far as the football team, he's been a great leader.
“What's been said about him doesn't change how I feel about him. We're going to hit the field and fight like we always do.”
Hernandez, who was Pouncey's college roommate, is accused of killing former semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd.
Despite the prosecuting attorney's statement that “strong evidence” established that Hernandez had “orchestrated” Lloyd's murder, Pouncey and his twin brother, Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey, showed support for the embattled Hernandez.
Mike Pouncey indicated he isn't prepared to apologize.
“I talked to Mike, and his team handled this situation a lot different than (the Steelers) did,” Maurkice Pouncey said. “I'm sure Mike wanted to apologize, but that's how they handled it.”
On Thursday, Florida removed a brick honoring Hernandez for his All-American season in 2009 when he helped lead the Gators to a national championship. The brick was adjacent to one that honors Pouncey.
Pouncey, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, said he discussed the issue with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. He said the conversation went well.
Tomlin agreed but declined to elaborate.
“I'll keep that between he and I,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, like all situations when I'm dealing with guys (about topics) unrelated to performance, I think that's appropriate.”
Despite the fallout, Pouncey said he expects to assume a leadership role with the Steelers this season.
“I think I'll do a good job at it,” the fourth-year center said. “The torch has been passed to me, especially the older guys who have helped me along the way. We'll see how things turn out this year.”
Pouncey said he was motivated to talk about Hernandez, in part, to illustrate his willingness to accept his leadership role and to be accountable for his actions.
“I think manning up to the things you do is always important in any man with any position in life,” Pouncey said. “I think I came out here and did that in front of everybody. I think it'll mean lot to everybody in Pittsburgh and all around the country.”
When asked if he had talked with Hernandez, Pouncey said, “I don't want to get into that at all.”