The Pittsburgh Steelers signed free agent center Fernando Velasco on Monday to replace injured starter Maurkice Pouncey, who was lost for the season Sunday in the opener against the Tennessee Titans. While we still don’t know what the amount of the one-year deal is that Velasco signed, it appears as though the Steelers got a bargain.
Velasco, who was originally signed by the Titans as an undrafted free agent in 2008, was released back in late August after losing his job to Rob Turner, who the Tennessee signed during the offseason. Being as the Titans had also drafted Brian Schwenke in the fourth-round of the 2013 NFL Draft, they had no reason to keep Velasco and his $2.03 million tendered salary that would have been guaranteed had he made their 53 man roster.
In 2012, Velasco started all 16 games for the Titans with 13 of them coming at center. In those 13 games, the Georgia product did not allow a sack, according to Pro Football Focus, and he only gave up nine hurries in total. PFF ranked Velasco as their 11th best center in 2012 and that just so happened to be one spot above Pouncey, whose shoes he must now fill.
The Steelers will play the Cincinnati Bengals next Monday night on the road, and that is a team Velasco has already faced this year during the preseason. In that game, Velasco started and played 36 snaps and he allowed just one hurry. On most of those snaps, the Steelers center was lined up against Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko, who he seemed to handle well.
I have pulled six different plays from that game and posted them below so that you can see how well Velasco moves and blocks in both the running game and in pass protection. While Velasco is certainly not as mobile as Pouncey is, he still can move out in space and get to the second level when asked. In addition, Velasco also has a much wider base than that of Pouncey and on the pass protection snaps that I watched, he seems to drop anchor well.
Because it might take a little time for Velasco to learn the offense, the Steelers will more than likely have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger call the protections Monday night against the Bengals. Being as he recently faced the Bengals during the preseason, he should have a pretty good idea about what to expect from not only Peko, but Geno Atkins as well.
It will be several weeks until we can truly judge just how good of signing that Velasco was, but it initially appears as though they got the best available on the street. For now, let’s just hope that he stays healthy.