By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — As the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2010 training camp begins its final week, No. 1 pick Maurkice Pouncey is looking more and more like the team’s center for the present instead of the future.
Pouncey, who had been splitting practice time at right offensive guard and center, worked primarily in the middle of the offensive line during Monday afternoon’s practice at Saint Vincent College and could eventually supplant starter Justin Hartwig by the time the regular season begins Sept. 12.
“For the short term, he’s going to continue (to split reps),” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’ll nail down a job for him at some point, but to this juncture he’s been very impressive with how he’s handled the job of playing both. And he’s really playing both very well.”
Tomlin added that Pouncey elevated his status at center by the way he played against the Detroit Lions in preseason Game 1. Pouncey opened up a hole on the for Isaac Redman to get through the line and continued to aid the 31-yard run with another block downfield. This pleased Pouncey and the coaches.
“The coaches showed my film,” Pouncey said. “So, that was good, but it’s only one play. We have to go from there. … I’m reading defenses and recognizing a lot that’s going on out there. It’s a lot different from Florida, a lot different.”
Pouncey appears to be developing a rapport with his linemates and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who joined the rookie with the first-team offense Monday. It was the initial first-team snaps for Pouncey at center. Roethlisberger even asked Pouncey to take a few snaps with him after practice was over.
And Hartwig, a ninth-year player in his third season as the Steelers’ starting center, worked with Pouncey as well after practice.
“Justin has brought me a long way, and he’s been teaching me a lot,” Pouncey said. “And the best man will play. … We’re coming out every day to try to get better, and the one of us that plays the best will be the starter.”
Hartwig was asked several different ways if he’s feeling any heat from the rookie, playing with a chip on his shoulder or feeling any extra pressure.
“All I can do is focus on my job, so that’s what I do,” Hartwig said. “We’re a unit on the offensive line, and I’m part of it. I’m going to help Maurkice as much as I can to be the best center that he can be, and we’re making each other better every day. We’re a unit, and we’re trying to be successful together.
“I think I’m having a pretty nice camp so far, but that doesn’t mean anything. Everything changes from year to year, but I think the Steelers know what I’m capable of doing. I’ve been playing this game for a long time, so I’m just going to go out and play hard every day.
“And I’m not going to change anything that I’m doing,” Hartwig added. “The competition with a teammate is part of the job, and I expect that. There’s always going to somebody pushing me. That’s the nature of the beast every year, and it helps us both become better players.”
Hartwig added that playing guard has never entered his thought process, and the coaches have not asked him to switch. When the Steelers drafted Pouncey, though, Tomlin believed it would be easier for the rookie to learn to play the guard spot before he was pressed into playing center.
“He’s proven me quite wrong in that area, which is good,” Tomlin said. “It’s better to be pleasantly surprised, rather than be disappointed, but we probably erred on the side of conservatism when we made that initial statement.”
As far as Pouncey is concerned now, it appears to be full steam ahead.
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