By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Several weeks ago, when the Pittsburgh Steelers were preparing to play the New York Jets, Maurkice Pouncey was being compared to Jets center Nick Mangold, the NFL’s standard for the position.
With his rookie season not yet complete, Pouncey apparently has achieved that level. Mangold was named Tuesday as the AFC’s starting center to the Pro Bowl, and Pouncey was named as the backup. While being questioned about the honor Wednesday, Pouncey was as humble as he could be.
“It feels all right, man, but we’ve got bigger things on our plate that we need to worry about,” Pouncey said. “So, I don’t look at that too much. (Tuesday), my agent and Mr. Rooney called me, and I was excited. But, like I’ve said, we’ve got bigger things to look forward to.”
Pouncey said he was somewhat surprised to win the award, but quickly added that he was more concerned that the Steelers (11-4) must visit Cleveland (5-10) in the regular-season finale Sunday. If the Steelers win, they can clinch the AFC North title and earn a first-round bye in the upcoming playoffs.
“It’s my rookie year, so it is what it is,” Pouncey said. “It’s a great honor to me, and I’m glad they did it. But we’ve got bigger things to worry about. We’ve got Cleveland this week. I love what I do, so it’s a great honor. But I’m not going to look too much into it. I have to get ready for this big week that we have.”
It’s been said that a rookie eventually will hit a wall as his initial NFL season wears on due to the number and intensity of the games. Pouncey hasn’t hit it yet, according to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“I don’t want to talk about (Pouncey), because he’s sitting right next to me, and I don’t want his head to get any bigger than it already is,” Roethlisberger said. “(But) I’m not surprised. I’ve told you all along that he’s one of the best in the game, and he’s going to be the best. So, the sky’s the limit for him.
“I’m just proud and happy that he’s been recognized. He’s physical. He’s athletic and able to get downfield. He always tries to start a fight between every play, and that’s what you want. As long as he gets back to the huddle for the next play. But the biggest thing is that he’s so smart.
“He’s in here every Tuesday watching film,” Roethlisberger added. “Maybe on Mondays, too, so that’s great for a rookie. He should be hitting a wall right now, and he’s not. He’s getting better every week, and he’s really shown me a lot since the beginning of the season. He’s really going to be great.”
Pouncey said the two toughest guys he’s had to block this season are Baltimore Ravens tackle Haloti Ngata and Ahtyba Rubin from Cleveland, but he is hopeful that those two are returning the favor about him.
“We have to go hard on every play, because I already know what kind of game it’s going to be,” Pouncey said. “I remember the last time when we went at each other, it was a real game. I was so sore the next day, I had to get into the cold tank. (Rubin) is a real tough guy.
“(Last year’s game) has been talked about a lot already during this week, but we’ve got to put that behind us and get ready. We already had a good walk-through (Wednesday), and now we need to have a good practice. So, we can be ready to play. (But) everybody has mentioned it.
“The players and the coaches, everybody has mentioned it,” Pouncey added. “They know what happened last year, and we don’t want that to let that happen again. They mention it, but it is what it is. We know our destiny here, and we have everything in front of us. So, we can’t let that happen again.”
Steelers wideout Mike Wallace was among a rookie group last year that was the first to lose to Cleveland after 13 straight victories. That 13-6 Browns win has been a topic of discussion in and out of the locker room since the win against Carolina last week.
“I heard about that,” Wallace said. “Those guys blame it on the younger guys, because they never lost to Cleveland. And we lost that game at their place and didn’t make the playoffs. So, we don’t want to lose again this year at Cleveland, and I want to be one of the guys to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“Sure, we’re already in the playoffs, but we have more to accomplish. This is a really big game for us. There’s a really big difference between a two and a six seed, so there’s a lot on the line. That’s why home field is important, especially when a team has to come to Heinz Field, so we want to play there.”
Wallace also was in the news this week for his perceived Pro Bowl snub. Despite leading the AFC with an average of 20.2 yards per catch, ranking fourth with 1,152 yards and tied for fourth with nine touchdown catches, Wallace did not make its Pro Bowl roster at wide receiver.
Houston’s Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne from Indianapolis were the starters, while Denver’s Brandon Lloyd and Kansas City’s Dwayne Bowe were the backups.
“I would have liked to make it, but the guys who did are really good players,” Wallace said. “They’re very well deserving. … Hopefully, I wouldn’t be able to play anyway, because we’ll be playing in the Super Bowl. That’s our plans for now. We want to be busy getting ready for that game that week.”
Roethlisberger noted that there are always going to be snubs.
“Mike’s a great player, but I just don’t think he had enough catches that he needed,” Roethlisberger said. “If he had as many catches as the other guys, he’d have a ridiculous amount of yards. (But) maybe that gives him motivation to improve to be picked next year, because he’s a great wide receiver.”
Notes: Linebackers James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons, who rank among the NFL leaders in tackles, also were not picked to the Pro Bowl this year. … Pouncey also received the Joe Greene Award, given annually to the team’s top rookie. … And Roethlisberger received the Chief Award, presented annually to the player who best exemplifies the spirit of cooperation with the media. It was established in honor of Steelers’ founder, Arthur J. Rooney, Sr. … Both awards were voted on by the team’s media.
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