By Matthew Marczi
End-of-season player exit meetings are not something that we are often privy to as outsiders of the football world. Generally, we only get a glimpse into that world when a player is asked by a reporter how the meeting went, if the player is willing to discuss it.
Still, it’s not generally a hard concept to grasp, and we have a pretty good feel by now of how Mike Tomlin and his staff likes to operate, and we see all the game film, so it’s not an overly difficult project to simulate. If we were to administer the end-of-season player exit meetings, it might go something like this.
Player: Fernando Velasco
Experience: 5 Years
It would be safe to assume that the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t have center Fernando Velasco in their plans when the regular season started, but that changed rapidly when Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the year just eight plays into the first game.
The Steelers were forced to work with what they had at their disposal, moving everyman lineman Kelvin Beachum from tight end to center for the remainder of that season opener, while the actual backup center, Cody Wallace, was inactive.
Wallace, of course, had no prior starting experience and about 15 snaps’ worth of playing time in meaningful games—not to mention he’d only been on the roster for a few days. That’s where Velasco came into the picture.
Having started 19 games in the past, including every game in 2012 for the Tennessee Titans, Velasco was a valuable commodity that the Steelers ‘lucked’ into being available after the first game, if losing your starting center could be contorted into being lucky.
Velasco was able to come in and start immediately, which was a notable concern for the Steelers, as they would have either had to rely on Wallace, a natural center but who had just joined the team and had no starting experience, or Beachum, who had starting experience at tackle but only just learned to play center.
Having Velasco come in and anchor the line was essential to providing solidity for a unit that was shaken by the loss of its leader and signal caller and on the verge of instability. Even though the Steelers went on to lose his first three starts, the line slowly began to gel, and after a few weeks, Velasco himself was emerging as a leader of what is a rather young offensive line.
He and Ramon Foster, the other ‘veteran’ among the offensive linemen, took the reins and helped steer the offensive line in the right direction by season’s end. While his own personal performance might not always have been quite at the level that he was generally given credit for, there’s no doubt that he was essential to the unit being able to continue to grow without Pouncey for virtually the entire year.
With his injury late in the season, the Steelers got a chance to see what Wallace could do as a starter—another ‘lucky’ break, or positive spin on a negative situation. In addition, it increases the likelihood that Velasco would be willing to stick around in a reserve capacity when he most certainly would be looking for a starting position otherwise.
During his short stay in Pittsburgh, Velasco certainly grew on the city and the team, and it seemed that the feeling was mutual based on the interviews that he gave during the season. If he falls in love like Jerricho Cotchery and other veterans have in the past, he may be willing to potentially sacrifice a bigger role for slightly more pay in order to stay in a strong personal and professional environment.
Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers End Of Season Player Exit Meetings – QB Ben Roethlisberger
Steelers End Of Season Player Exit Meetings – WR Antonio Brown
Steelers End Of Season Player Exit Meetings – WR Emmanuel Sanders
Steelers End Of Season Player Exit Meetings – TE Heath Miller
Steelers End Of Season Player Exit Meetings – T Marcus Gilbert
Steelers End Of Season Player Exit Meetings – G David DeCastro
Steelers End Of Season Player Exit Meetings – G Ramon Foster
Steelers End Of Season Player Exit Meetings – T Kelvin Beachum
Steelers End Of Season Player Exit Meetings – RB Le’Veon Bell