By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Position flexibility has always been crucial for players since Mike Tomlin took over as the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, and 2010 No. 1 pick Maurkice Pouncey certainly falls into that category.
The 6-foot-4, 304-pound Pouncey, 21 July 24, played center the past two years at Florida and was a right guard as a freshman. Tomlin believed he would be a guard with the Steelers, initially, and then possibly move to center.
Even though the Steelers have had an excellent history with centers — including Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson, Jeff Hartings and now Justin Hartwig from Super Bowl teams — this is the first center they’ve drafted No. 1 since 1941. The last offensive lineman the Steelers took in the first round was guard Kendall Simmons in 2002.
“He’s a guy who we’ve viewed as an interior offensive lineman with position flexibility,” Tomlin said. “Like Kevin stated, he started at right guard as a true freshman and then spent the past two years as a center.
“He’s a young guy … with a great deal of experience playing high-quality ball in the SEC. He’s the type of player and has the type of demeanor that we covet. He’s a physical guy. He’s football smart, and we’re excited about having him.”
The Steelers interviewed Pouncey at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis and also watched at him at Florida’s Pro Day. Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said that he while calls had come in concerning trading the pick, the Steelers were so impressed with Pouncey that they quickly selected him.
“Coach (Sean) Kugler, our new offensive line coach, put him on the board and spent some time with him,” Colbert said. “And his intelligence was very impressive, which is a premium for that position. He did a great job on the board, watching film with Coach Kugler, and we came away more impressed.”
Starting left guard Chris Kemoeatu, starting right guard Trai Essex, second-year player Kraig Urbik, backup tackle Ramon Foster and backup center Doug Legursky all have experience at guard. So, Pouncey certainly should get a shot to compete for playing time, although he said it’s his plan to start.
“I’m just so happy to be a Pittsburgh Steeler,” Pouncey said. “I wanted this from Day 1. I had a good feeling, and I’m so happy to get picked by the Steelers. All their fans, the city, that’s a team I met with at the Combine and fell in love with, so I’m very happy right now.
“They weren’t my favorite team growing up, but I really fell in love with them at the Combine. (And) I know they’ve had a lot of great centers, but I just want to continue the tradition. … I can play either guard or center, so I’ll do whatever I need to do.”
Tomlin said that Pouncey was drafted because he can make an immediate impact at guard for Steelers.
“Our goal is to put the best five on the field and then to back them up with flexible men,” Tomlin said. “Some of those guys have shown their flexibility already. (But Pouncey) has the player demeanor that we covet. He’s a finisher. He’s physical football player who likes to play the game.
“(And) he likes everything that goes with that. He likes to work out. He likes to compete in the weight room, and he likes to work at his craft. And those are things, of course, that we’re looking for.”
Pouncey was a high school All-American and three-time state champion at Lakeland, Fla. High School. He also won a national title at Florida two years ago and started 39 of 41 games (11 at right guard, 28 at center) with the Gators.
“I can’t wait to get to Pittsburgh,” Pouncey said. “I’m so excited, and I can’t wait to get up there. … My uncle already is a Steelers fan, but now we’re all Steelers fans.”
Pouncey is expected to arrive in Pittsburgh sometime Friday and stay at least through the weekend.