By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — As the Pittsburgh Steelers became more enthralled with their eventual No. 1 pick Maurkice Pouncey, little did they know that the 6-foot-4, 304-pound center was becoming just as enamored with them.
Pouncey, who was introduced to the Steelers staff at their practice facility Friday, said the love affair began almost immediately.
“It’s so amazing to me,” Pouncey said. “It really hasn’t even hit me yet, but I am so happy I am a Pittsburgh Steeler. I always wanted this ever since I came out and met them at the Combine.
“This is where I wanted to be at. Definitely, the fans and coaching staff (were the most attractive). I got real close with Coach Tomlin, and we had a good conversation, just the whole organization.”
The Steelers’ rabid fan base is legendary, but Pouncey didn’t realize to what extent until he arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport for the first time. He might have been basically an anonymous offensive lineman on one hand, but as the newest Steelers player he already was famous.
“It was shocking; I’m a lineman,” Pouncey said, as he noted that several people congratulated him and welcomed him to town as he arrived. “I didn’t think it would ever happen like that. I’m kind of in the ground.
“I get in there and get in the trenches. … It’s crazy how people already know you. I’m just happy that I’m here. I see the fans on TV, and they’re just so amazing.(And) I’ve got a lot to live up to. I’ve been reading, and there are a lot of great guys that have played in a Pittsburgh uniform.”
The more Pouncey spoke, the more he appeared to be a great fit for the Steelers. This kid is bright and engaging, albeit soft-spoken, but he was ready for whatever he had to face with the Steelers.
“I think I’m going to fit in very well,” Pouncey said. “We got a great group of guys here, and I can’t wait to get on the field and meet all the guys. … I’m ready for my challenge. I know that I’ve got a lot of work to do.
“And first I’ve got to get in here and learn the playbook and get accepted by my teammates. I came into the draft as an interior lineman. That’s always been the thought since Day 1. And I’m ready for it. Whatever the team needs.”
The Steelers clearly need an interior lineman, and Pouncey could be an immediate contributor at right guard if he comes along quickly. Trai Essex, last year’s starter, isn’t etched in stone this year. And the chance to make an early impact is why Pouncey decided to come out a year early.
“I think the biggest thing is the communication, because the center usually is going to be responsible for that,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “Again, Maurkice moved (to center) as a sophomore, and they say he did a great job. (And) what he did with Coach (Sean) Kugler (the Steelers O-line coach) was impressive, so we don’t have a problem with (moving him).
“I believe they plan on moving his twin brother, Michael, from guard to center next season. So, I believe that’s a transition they’re comfortable with. (And) when Maurkice gets here, we’re going to find a spot for him somewhere.”
He nearly returned to Florida for his senior season, but once Pouncey weighed all his options — mainly a first-round contract — he decided to turn pro. The downside was leaving his twin brother, Michael, at Florida. The two basically have played side by side on the line since their peewee football days.
“I think my situation was a lot better than Mike’s,” Pouncey said. “A lot of teams have never seen Mike play actual center in the game, and they’ve seen me play guard my whole freshman year.
“So, Mike came back, he made the decision. I think he made a smart decision coming back next year. He’ll probably be the top guy, hopefully. … His decision was a lot easier than mine, and I’m glad he’ll be coming back.”
And Maurkice has moved on to the Steelers.