By Matthew Marczi
For a team facing so much adversity in the past season and heading into the next with a litany of questions to address, it’s natural to consider the issues and how they can either go right or wrong, as well as how they will affect the broader dynamics and future success of the team, both heading into this season and into the future.
Though not statistically true, it is technically true that every team enters the offseason with the potential to finish the year as the league champion or as the first team on the clock in the next draft.
Some teams have a wider realistic range than others, and I think the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of those teams. Think of them as Schrödinger’s franchise; in February, they are both future champions and future owners of the top draft pick.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.
Question: What will the Steelers be getting from Maurkice Pouncey in 2014?
Losing All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey early in the opening day loss to the Tennessee Titans was one of the defining moments of the first half of the 2013 season for the Steelers. It literally embodied the idea that they simply couldn’t get out of their own way.
Of course, Pouncey suffered a torn ACL when right guard David DeCastro attempted to cut a defender on an outside zone play—basically the only outside zone run they attempted all season, despite it being highly talked about.
When the season begins, Pouncey will naturally be approximately a year removed from his ACL tear. Given that players such as Casey Hampton and Max Starks have recently played immediately without issue after late-season ACL tears, and the fact that Pouncey is still quite young and athletic, one would be led to believe that the center has a high probability of playing at a high level early on.
As a matter of fact, Pouncey will be returning to the best situation in his pro career, as he will be surrounded by two true complementary pieces along the interior between DeCastro and Ramon Foster. While Foster not only remained consistent but also upped his game and became a very solid starter, DeCastro often flashed signs of dominance, an indication that the Steelers could have a lethal pair with those two for years to come.
Pouncey has been saddled with below average talent for basically his entire career up to this point. Given that Foster’s strength is his pass protection, in addition, he should have less responsibility in babysitting his wingmen.
Getting Pouncey back and being able to move away from the less athletic, journeymen types in Fernando Velasco and Cody Wallace will help allow the offensive line to ascend to the next level that everyone has been waiting for.
Pouncey’s athleticism will be key in that endeavor, as he is the touchstone that allows the team to run the outside zone with effectiveness in the first place. Under new offensive line coach Mike Munchak, the line will be learning the fundamentals of how to execute this scheme—which Todd Haley has been trying to introduce for two years—in a proper manner.
While Pouncey’s true value in comparison to other centers around the league has been regularly debated since his rookie season, it would be foolish to deny that he is clearly the best center on the team, and that his athleticism allows the Steelers to open up their play book and get more creative. On the optimistic end of the scale, this is the Maurkice Pouncey that will be re-joining the rising offensive line in 2014.