By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — It’s a good thing Sean Kugler likes sunshine and warm temperatures.
Kugler, beginning his second season as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line coach, went to Florida to scout Gators center Maurkice Pouncey and eventually made him the club’s No. 1 pick last season.
Kugler returned to Gainesville this year and liked what he saw from former Pouncey teammate Marcus Gilbert. So, the Steelers made the 6-foot-6, 330-pound offensive tackle their second-round pick during the NFL Draft Friday night. If this trend continues, expect Kugler to return to the South.
“I just like taking trips down to Florida each spring to work these guys out,” Kugler said. “Marcus is a player that has played four positions. He has played both tackle and guard positions. … He’s a very high-energy player. He’s athletic (and) plays the game physical the way that we like here.”
Gilbert started at right tackle in 2009 and moved to the left side last fall for the Gators. He is close friends with Pouncey, who lobbied his coaches to get Gilbert to the Steelers this year.
“There were a couple of teams that had a lot of interest in me, but I really felt and was hoping for the Steelers,” Gilbert said. “They have a great organization. The Pittsburgh Steelers, year in and year out, they compete for a championship, and that’s what I want to do. I want to come in, and I want to help them win championships by doing anything I can do.
“(Maurkice told me that) it’s a winning tradition. When you come in, you better bring your lunch pale. You have to come in and work hard every day. You have to bring it, week in and week out (with) no days off. The reason they drafted me is that they have a lot of faith in me.”
While Kugler noted that he enjoys going south to scout the Florida players, Pouncey told Gilbert that he had some difficulty adjusting to the cold weather. Gilbert said he has no worries about that.
“I can handle it,” Gilbert said. “It’s football, (so) your adrenaline is going to kick in. Whenever my number is called, anything I can do, I’m going to come in and I’m going to handle business.
“I’m just looking forward to the opportunity to play (for) a great organization, (and) I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for me and I’m looking forward to taking full advantage of it.’
The Steelers offensive line basically is in flux at this point with two players coming back from injuries in tackles Max Starks and Willie Colon, while Flozell Adams might not return for a second season after an injury-plagued — but solid — 2010 season with the Steelers after more than a decade in Dallas.
“We just think that we’ve got a good football player that adds to the room,” Kugler said about Gilbert. “We have a player that we feel is not just locked into one position, and we feel that is important. We have a guy that plays with energy and passion, and that’s the most important.”
While the Steelers are hopeful that Gilbert can help shield quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from opposing pass-rushers in the future, protection is in his family. Gilbert’s father, Jeffrey, is a retired Secret Service agent who guarded the past three U.S. presidents. And this provided the younger Gilbert with several interesting situations.
“I met Bill Clinton and President Obama,” Gilbert said. “I know I had a better relationship with President Obama. He keeps in tough with my dad, so I know he was thrilled for me. It was a great experience, too, having somebody like my dad to grow up around with the presidents and watching the elections.”
When the Gators visited the White House a couple years ago after their second straight national title, President Obama recognized Marcus Gilbert before honoring the entire team.