A Look At New Steelers C Fernando Velasco

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.

animated gif Titans Bengals Fernando Velasco

Velasco pulls right on a power run and while he doesn’t square up the linebacker in the hole great, he gets enough of him.

animated gif Titans Bengals Fernando Velasco

Velasco stands up Peko in pass protection and keeps good balance. Full control.

animated gif Titans Bengals Fernando Velasco

Velasco easily helps pickup James Harrison on a tackle/end stunt.

animated gif Titans Bengals Fernando Velasco

Velasco gets Peko out of the running lane on an outside zone run to the left.

animated gif Titans Bengals Fernando Velasco

Velasco turns Peko out on a power trap play to the left.

animated gif Titans Bengals Fernando Velasco

Velasco out to the second level on the middle linebacker. If he holds that block longer, Chris Johnson might be gone.

  • VaDave

    Don’t get me wrong, I like Pouncey, but frankly, he had a rough preseason this year, and now this injury. I think we got a decent replacement here, surprisingly considering this point in the season. Now if we can find a tackle or two out there, and maybe a LG, we may be able to salvage this season after all……
    Side note to Haley, bring back the counter trap and bubble screens…..

  • Jason

    Good work Dave. We are fortunate that a guy this good was available. Even more fortunate that he just played against Peko and held up well. Reason for optimism in an early season where there dosen’t seem to be many.

  • Jonas

    Looks like our best Oliner right now..
    Great to find someone as good at this time! He looks really good, as he man-handles Peko – and this should be one thing that will transfer to our Oline! The runblocking perhaps will be as bad due to the fact that Velasco isn’t as athletic as Pouncey/DeCastro! But more reliable!

  • Jonas

    Perhaps he can earn himself this spot! Pouncey should be great as an athletic Guard! But Velasco could also earn himself the G-Spot! (no pun intended)

  • TJimmy

    Awesome. My only question is why they didn’t sign him earlier? And why did the Titans release him?

  • Steeler Goetz

    Things are going to start to get real interesting around here. If Tennessee gave an UDFA a $2.0M tender then they really didn’t want Velasco going anywhere, but then he became expendable (and expensive) when Rob Turner played better than expected. What do the Steelers do come year end if Velasco does a more than admirable job in Pouncey’s absence? Pouncey’s going to be real expensive no matter where he signs and the Steelers have been up against the cap an awful lot as of late. Add to that the fact that the loss of Pouncey would surely result in another compensatory draft pick coming our way and things certainly could get real interesting around here if Velasco plays well.

  • Steeler Goetz

    The Steelers didn’t sign him earlier because they didn’t need him with a healthy Pouncey and Kelvin Beachum and Co. behind him. The Titans got rid of Velasco simply because he cost too much money. They gave him a $2.0M tender and Rob Turner, who was cheaper, proved to them that they could better spend that cash elsewhere.

  • Jason

    And add to the fact that despite the big contract, big name and #1 pick pedigree, Pouncey has underachieved since his rookie year.

  • steeltown

    Did you see that bubble screen on 3rd and 11… terrible call

  • kev4heels

    makes you wonder why we didn’t go after him before this happened. he is much better than any other backup we have.


    Agreed…perfromance? echoing other post but I like the fact he played 16 gms last year…Pouncey is having trouble doing that.

    ACL&MCL…there will be demadn, but I’m not thinking top shelf money.

  • JPDQ

    I’m wondering the same things. I think if this guy has any position flexibility, and he plays well this year, then you use it as leverage in Pouncey’s next contract. If he doesn’t want to take our offer, trade him or let him walk, save the dough and resign Velasco.

    I was over Pouncey the minute he wore that shameless Hernandez hat, and frankly I’m sick of his injuries and think we could do just as well without him.

  • Patrick J Brophy

    Love this website for these type of posts.

  • Luke Shabro

    I can not understand for the life of me how you can say you’re sick of his injuries. Clearly it was his fault that DeCastro took him out at the knees and tore his ACL. Obviously he wasn’t conditioned enough… That’s just a ridiculous statement

  • Mkeller

    Its going to be hard to convince me that signing Pouncey long term is the right move. He simply cannot stay healthy. If Velasco plays well and can be had for a descent price prior to free agency that would seem to be a good move. But the Steelers recent tendency to overvalue and overpay their aging oft injured players that were once great would lead me to believe they’ll extend Pouncey. Time for the Steeler fans and franchise to stop being sentimental towards the players. Players come and go…the franchise is forever.

  • DoctorNoah

    Come on, people! DeCastro literally cut right into his knee. This has nothing to do with conditioning. You do this to Adrian Peterson, you do this to any human being, and they tear their ACL and MCL. Period. Injuries happen, particularly in the trenches of the offensive line. It’s treacherous. To say he can’t stay healthy is crap. Now, underacheiving as a pro bowl center, I’m with that, and a good performance by Velasco may make next year interesting, but I wouldn’t think it has anything to do with being injury prone.

  • JPDQ

    Luke, I can say that because I’ve watched the last three seasons of Steelers football. Have you?

    Know how many playoff games Pouncey has played in?

    Guy is overpaid for what he contributes to the team. Unless you want to count the embarrassment he brings to the franchise for his public support of gangsta murdering convicts. That’s PRICELESS, of course.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    We are soooo lucky we’re able to pick up a player like this right now. The only thing I don’t understand is why we can’t find a replacement for Whimper on the level of Velasco.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    That is what I wanted to know. Someone said he was released after we picked up Wallace but have not seen anyone on SD say exactly. He seems to be a starting NFL C IMO and a top 15 one at that. What a nice find!

  • Mkeller

    I never said anything about conditioning. Regardless of why he’s not playing now the fact is he’s had ankle and knee issues since he came to Pittsburgh. They add up. Its an attrition thing. Sometimes you just need to move on even if you like the guy or he was once great.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Mkeller and Goetz both make intrigueing statements. We understand that it wasn’t Pouncey’s fault why he wasn’t injured but the fact is that he has always been injured through his short career. He could be the best C in football but the fact of the matter is, is he playing? Doesn’t do us any good on the bench my friend.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Pouncey has actually only missed 3 regular season games in 3 years which isn’t too bad. I would like to thank the Titans who after kicking our tails that they would show mercy and give us a new C. 🙂

  • JPDQ

    Yep, exactly Mkeller. Neither one of us said anything about his conditioning. Fact is, the guy is injury prone and if Velasco is comparable in production at all, I think you move on from Pouncey unless he’s reasonable at the bargaining table.

  • JPDQ

    Yeah, but those injuries also caused him to miss both postseason appearances since he’s been here. And he’s been bothered consistently with ankle injuries, most notably.

  • srdan

    Wow, looks like a good signing. Hopefully he wakes this dormant line up.

    He looks stronger and bigger than Pouncey.

  • Nolrog

    His fault or not, he’s still injured.

  • Luke Shabro

    You guys are right! Cut him! Ben seems to be injured a lot too. Cut him! LeVeon Bell is already injury prone! Better cut him too! Miss a game? You’re cut. I can’t believe that we even hold on to Troy. Should’ve cut him years ago.

  • Luke Shabro

    Whimper’s salary is now guaranteed. He’s not going anywhere, unfortunately.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Rather than even begin to entertain all the Pouncey/Velasco hypothetical contract talk below…before he plays a single game…I’ll just say I’m thankful the Steelers were able to sign a guy with the skill set, experience, toughness, and RECENT playing time as a replacement. Now let’s get to work and play with VIGOR this Monday night.

    It sounds like Keisel was planning to give the whole team a piece of his mind…and I hope he does.

  • Luke Shabro

    Plus the word around Tenn is they want Schwenke starting at some point this season. He needs time to catch up because he missed some preseason time.

  • TheBlitz

    I think if he was signed before the beginning of the season the steelers were going to be in the book for his 2$ million salary. That’s probably why he wasn’t signed. But I could be wrong.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    Right, so, replace my can’t with couldn’t and lets talk in past tense.

  • JPDQ

    Guess Hernandez has internet access in the pen. Don’t be hatin’ bro!

  • Luke Shabro

    I would’ve taken virtually anybody outside of Whimper. Except maybe Jonathan Scott. They’re pretty much the same guy. A turnstile that’s going to allow upwards of 8 sacks in minimal starting time.

  • Garrett Keegan

    @bf0be3912b96796a06120085ab38f6d7:disqus I completely agree with your comment. Lets hold off on the Pouncey contract talk and be grateful that this guy was available. Looks like a solid pickup! This was a critical pickup as our line literally looked lost/defeated after Pouncey went down.

  • cencalsteeler

    This is one pick up that I actually really feel good about.

  • GI Joe

    Velasco played in every snap for the Titans last season and he graded
    out in pass blocking with a +5.6 and run blocking with a +8.1. Yes,
    those super succeed boy-wonder Pouncey. In 643 snaps, he only allowed the
    QB to be pressured twice. Yep, twice. The Titans interior OL was
    horrible, so they drafted OL heavy, brought in veterans to replace
    everyone and Velasco didn’t make the cut. Why? I’m not sure. He
    ranked as the 9th best OC in the NFL last season, 7 spots ahead of

    I haven’t been sold on Pouncey from day one. I thought we should have traded him during the draft and taken a kid like Barrett Jones to replace him. Yet, I’m crazy to think of trading the Offensive MVP Pro Bowl wonder. Pouncey isn’t the best OC in the NFL, not even close too it. Yet, because he was drafted so high he makes the Pro Bowl.

    Solid article Dave! We are all going to like Velasco. Maybe we will pickup Jared Gaither or Max Starks and dump Whimper. If we have to see Whimper at either OT spot, it’s going to get even uglier.

  • Mike Carroll

    Awesome signing and great video breakdown in the article. I don’t think it’s a stretch to think Velasco is at least comparable to Pouncey. While ProFootballFocus rankings should not viewed as supreme judgements of players, I think they provide some broad statistical measure of player’s performance which is worth considering in player evaluation (even if PFF analysts may periodically grade a play incorrectly for whatever reason).

    Hopefully, Velasco is able to play well enough to give the Front Office
    reason to pause before extending Pouncey to some exorbitant deal next
    year (based on his “pedigree”) as they seemed destined to do before the
    injury. I think Pouncey’s Pro Bowl reputation is built around the fact that he was a rookie starter on a team that was appearing in their 3rd SB in 6 years. At that point in time, the Steelers FO and coaches were perceived as all-knowing. Things are different now, but people’s first impression of Pouncey persists.

  • PA2AK

    On that bubble screen….if Paulson even acts like he’s about to block, it would have been a solid call. 3rd and whatever…Ben was getting killed. Toss a quick pass out and give your receiver a 1 on 1 (had Paulson earned a paycheck) and it would have worked out to be a solid call. At least Ben didn’t get murdered.

    On that note…can anyone explain to me why Paulson is still on this roster outside of the lack of depth in the TE position. We targeted the TE once on sunday and that was DJ. Paulson couldn’t block a pee-wee backer. Our OL needs all the help they can get in the blocking department. Given that Art II has passed down that we must get back to our roots in Running the ball…can we at least act like we are trying? Lol…need to just try and WIN. That means…spread em out and tell Ben to win the field position battle as best he can. How many teams even smelled 100 yards rushing this first week? Not many. It’s 2013.

  • Steeler Wheeler

    Dude, he looks much better than any starter we have.

  • PA2AK

    Luke, look at the tape…Pouncey stayed on that man way to long (may have also been held a bit). He needed to merely chip the man, but engaged with both hands. DeCastro (should keep his friggin head up and eyes open!) went for the cut block on his second step. Had Pouncey not made that mistake (which he has been all preseason) then DeCastro would have likely been in a great spot for the cut block while Pouncey moves on to the next level. Regardless of fault…no one wanted it to happen. Again…when has Pouncey played an entire season? And don’t get me started on him being a ‘leader’…primadonna @$$hat…(would still rather have him healthy…but that is apparently not an option).

  • PA2AK

    Ben’s usually injured because Pouncey is always injured and we have a scrub back up as center at least 50% of the time.

  • PA2AK

    LeVeon Bell never missed a practice or a game in 3 years while carrying M State. Not injury prone in the slightest.

  • joed32

    Scott is a better RT than Whimper, neither can play LT.

  • Mike Carroll

    I don’t feel nearly as bad about all the injuries at this point. The video above sure makes it look like Velasco can play well and his PFF rankings support it.

    I view the Foote injury as a positive in the long run. I liked Larry as a supporting cast type player, but it was almost embarrassing that he was still starting for this team at age 33. The new CBA dictates teams get more production from young players and the Steelers better realize that soon. I pray Vince Williams gets a shot to win this position.

    The LSH injury is a bummer because he showed some spark, but the overall RB situation is going to sink or swim based on Le’Veon Bell alone.

    I’m most concerned about Cortez. Injuries are now getting a bit too common for him and we absolutely need him to become a playmaker this year.

  • Jay Jaber

    agree super bowl against the packers pouncey was out if we had him i think we couldve won and the playoff game against broncos we lost that game cause of doug legurskie with that snap that went over bens head we were in field goal range

  • maxdaddy

    Hopefully this guy will plug the hole left by Pouncey. I have a wait and see attitude towards Pouncey also. I am not sold on giving him a big contract. He may be voted All Pro, but I have heard analyst say he in good, but not great.

  • Ken

    It is amazing we picked up a 16 game starter from last year. I think Ben is feeling better already.

  • Bill Molinaro

    Pouncey was having some problems last year and this pre-season. However we will miss him but must move on. This looks like a decent pick up.

  • JohnnyV1

    Agree with most, we’re pretty lucky a guy of this caliber was available to be had. I’m not going to even comment about 2014, because, as we saw on Sunday, we have a long way to go this season. Hopefully in a better direction, up.

  • JPDQ

    All fine points, Mike. Well said.

  • RedCarpetDefense

    There are some interesting comments here. Those who are “anointing” Velasco without even seeing a down of play as a Steeler and bashing Pouncey were probably the same ones jumping on their couch when we drafted him first. Just wondering, what then would your plan be if Velasco stinks? or is he another “known commodity” to all of you as well?

  • Tom

    I think you make an excellent point about needing young players to contribute. It is ridiculous how little playing time that the younger players get on defense. By the time they start seeing the field with regularity, their first contract is almost up. Keenan Lewis is a fine example. The Steelers really did not know if he was worth keeping until it was too late, blowing any chance to resign him to a team friendly deal.

  • Mkeller

    No one is saying cut every injured player. I’m simply suggesting that extending a player coming off a major lower leg injury might not be the best business practice. The guys had lower leg injuries throughout his career. I’m not making that up, its a fact.

  • Ron Kelley

    This guy will probably be an upgrade because he was coached by someone else. I hope the current coaching staff doesn;t screw him like they have the rest of the O- line. Maybe they just need to stay out of his way – pretend he’s not there – then he’ll perform just fine.

  • Ron Kelley

    He looks better than any O-line starter we presently have. Just please keep the Steelers Coaching staff away from him. They could only screw him up like they have the rest of the O-Line

  • steeltown

    Im starting to agree about Paulson… I even mentioned the other day I’d like to see Palmer more moving forward, he is a much better in-line blocker

  • bpeoples

    Heated replies today. lol Looks like a great pick up. If he is good enough to give Pouncey a run for his money, what better problems could we have?

  • Brendon Glad

    Good formula. Pick guys whose body of work was good on the NFL as they become available. Should work out fine. The Steelers usually do well on that part (the PLAYERS) part of it.
    Could they try that with the coaching part of it as well? The Steelers’ last three OL coach hires came as “coaches let-go” from Buffalo (twice), and the Chiefs. I’m not going to pretend like I dig into film as much as any writer on this blog, nor the Steelers front-office. But at this point, perhaps that MAY be a good thing. Because I tend to resort to common sense.
    And duh, great NFL offensive line coaches are likely unavailable, because they would probably not be available if things “were all-peachy”. But could we PERHAPS try a great NCAAF coordinator, or o-line coach…or dig a former-great NFL o-line coach out of retirement…before going with the “fired O-line coach on a horrible offensive team” route…next time?

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I am not going that far just stating that if you are always injured what good are you to the team.

  • Jonathon Bert Schade

    Has Pouncey ever played an entire season?

  • Brendon Glad

    If there’s one thing about the Steelers to trust, it’s that they tend to answer the call when injuries appear to be potentially destroying their season.
    This first game REALLY will be testing them. The THREE segments of the core (ILB, and OL, RB) most prone to depth/quality problems…have been hit.

  • Curtis

    Max Starks is still out there and you know that’s Bens boy. If Fernando Velasco is the answer to center and we can get lucky with Max Starks it solves at least half of our problem protecting Ben. With that being said Ben needs to get rid of the ball to solve the other half.

  • alex

    so does DeCastro get fined for lead blocking blindly w/ his helmet…?

    also, its terrible for all these injuries to happen in game 1…one benefit is that we get to pick from a crop of good team leftovers like Velasco…then theres the benefit of the week 5 off week…

    cup half full, go steelers!

  • sean mcmartin

    Forget the bubble screen bring back Cowher Power

  • Steeler Goetz

    Let’s slow down a second. Look at the lineman we’ve had over the past couple of seasons other than Pouncey:
    F. Adams, M. Adams, T. Essex, R. Foster, T. Hills, C. Kemoeatu, C. Scott, D. Legusrsky, J. Scott, M. Starks, M. Gilbert, K. Beachum, D. DeCastro, J. Malecki, & W. Colon.
    Pouncey has performed better than all of those guys. He’s also better than most centers in the league. The only question I posed was would it be worth it to let him go to save $ and get another 3rd round comp pick. Velasco is going to answer that question for us soon enough. I don’t care about the whole hat thing. They were teammates in Florida and they don’t exactly get hired for for their intelligence. Lloyd wore that famous shirt that said he wasn’t hired for his disposition. Yes, he most certainly was. He was hired to be a nasty son-of-a-b1tch, and so was James Harrison and so was Pouncey. So it doesn’t shock me when they demonstrate a lack of intelligence.

  • PA2AK

    He won’t come back. He won’t deal with Art II’s declarations on how to manage the team.

  • PA2AK

    No one doubts his abilities when healthy. Health/cost is the issue. That decision won’t need to be made until a lot of football/changes happens. Hopefully he recovers and gets back to 100% and has some luck staying away from the injuries. We’ve fired players for lesser things than missing critical time with injuries.

  • gevins

    I like this guy

  • sean mcmartin

    Yeah PA2AK, Your probably correct. My second choice is to find a hungry aggressive head coach with Football smarts that can motivate and mold the Steelers into a defensive Nightmare for opposing teams every week.
    I miss the punishing defense..

  • sean mcmartin

    Pouncey came in played great one year. So he has the ability to play great if properly coached up. Sounds like alot of that is going around this team these days. Or Pouncey simply peaked after one year..

  • Steeler Goetz

    He was cut by TN on the last day of cuts. If the Steelers signed him before Week 1 his entire salary would have been guaranteed. Because he wasn’t on the roster Week 1 the Steelers won’t have to pay the rest of his salary if he’s cut. But they weren’t looking for a back-up center, much less a million dollar starting caliber center until Pouncey got hurt.

  • Steeler Goetz

    Both of Pouncey’s high ankle sprains have been the result of a player on the ground rolling up the back of his leg. In the AFC Championship game against the Jets, it was a linebacker who did it to him. In the 2011 game against Tennessee it was Marcus Gilbert who did it to him. There is absolutely nothing he could have done to prevent either injury. It wasn’t a conditioning issue or bad foot work on his part. He got rolled up both times. And this injury was all David DeCastro, The guy dove to illegally chop block the defender Pouncey had engaged, completely missed and took out Pouncey’s knee instead.

  • bonairsfavoriteson

    Go back over his entire career and subtract the 4 games he was suspended, Y ou will be shocked to learn with the beating he has taken playing behind our””blockers “, how few games he has missed due to injury.