Future may be now for Steelers rookie Pouncey
The Steelers have made no secret about the fact that Maurkice Pouncey is their center of the future.
The question following Saturday's first preseason game is: Could that future be now?
Despite spending the majority of the first two weeks of training camp learning the right guard position, the first-round pick out of the University of Florida made his professional debut against the Lions at center, and he came away with rave reviews.
"I was very impressed with him," left guard Chris Kemoeatu said.
Pouncey played all but 15 offensive snaps, with the majority of those coming at center.
Pouncey got 32 snaps at center, including 11 with the first team offensive line, minus right tackle Flozell Adams.
Pouncey made the key block at the point of attack that sprung Isaac Redman's 31-yard gain in the second quarter and then sprinted down the field to make another block at the end of the run on the Lions' Randy Phillips.
Pouncey was also at center and made a block on Redman's 1-yard touchdown run late in the first half.
"There were a couple of plays I did really well and a couple of others I wish I hadn't made," Pouncey said. "We will grow from there, but, overall, it went well. I went in there well prepared, mentally and physically. I had a pretty good day."
Pouncey also got seven snaps at right guard near the end of the game and never looked overwhelmed switching positions in mid-game.
"He are pleased he was able to handle that," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "That is an indication that things are going well for him. We'll look at the tape to see how he performed the minute details at both positions."
The Steelers had a plan formulated to work Pouncey at right guard this year before eventually moving over to take veteran Justin Hartwig's place at center, even though Hartwig signed a four-year deal before the start of last season.
Still, Pouncey has been learning both positions during camp and catching on very quickly, especially with the mental aspects of center.
The center is responsible for identifying and calling out the defensive fronts for not only the rest of the offensive line, but the quarterback as well.
"It would be difficult for a rookie center to come in and play in this system," Hartwig said last week. "However, it is not saying that it couldn't be done."
Pouncey had little trouble Saturday against the Lions.
"The communication as far as being a center was great," quarterback Dennis Dixon said. "He was very vocal letting me know as to what he saw. We were on the same page."
Kemoeatu echoed Dixon's sentiments.
"He is right there in the middle of stuff, and he makes the calls," he said. "He did a good job of identifying the front and calling out the mike linebacker. He did a great job. We had no problems with communication at all."
Pouncey said that he was preparing to play a lot of center Saturday, even though he rarely got any snaps at the position with the first team during camp. The majority of Pouncey's center snaps in camp came with the third team.
"Leading up to the game, I started to play a lot of center," Pouncey said. "I knew ahead of time that I was mainly going to play center this game."
The Steelers have been in search for a franchise-type center ever since Jeff Hartings retired after 2006. They brought in Sean Mahan from Tampa Bay the following year, but that failed miserably. Hartwig was signed in 2008 and has started every game at center since.
The Steelers had only four centers (Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson, Hartings) from 1964-2006. But none of those guys started as rookie centers.
"For me, it's just one game," Pouncey said. "I had some missed assignments, and it is a chance to build on that."