The Optimist’s Take – Maurkice Pouncey’s Return

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.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Caesar

    Any chance of just going for broke and signing Alex Mack and either trading Pouncey or just letting him play guard for a season and then letting him walk after his rookie deal is up?

    It’s a nice dream…

  • Callentown

    I really think Munch is the X-factor here.

    I rate Pouncey at around the 10th best Center, which of course is dependent on the offense the team is running.

    I rate DeCastro as a growing talent who is not Pro Bowl caliber at this time, while this board regularly suggests he is All-Pro. Not yet anyway. He needs to get stronger and stop making mental mistakes.

    Foster was our best lineman last year, so if Munchak can improve this interior three, we will only have to worry about the tackles – and that’s a whole nother story.

  • Virdin Barzey

    Really could care less where Pouncey is rated among other centers around the league. He’s been great for us…when he’s healthy. Love his attitude on the field and he clearly seems like he wants to be an all-time great.

    I’m getting a bit concerned that these injuries (not his fault) will catch up with him. This is a big year for him since his play seems to sliding but that has been mainly because of the inconsistency of the other o-line guys.

    Pouncey still has room to grow. Great for us. Can wait until Munch get a hold of him. This could be a nice marriage for a guy like Pouncey and DeCastro. No more stupid injuries please….Gilbert, DeCastro.

  • cp72

    Okay here’s my thing with Pouncey. He’s a good player and undoubtedly the best center on the team. I just have to wonder if we can average 28 points a game with Wallace at center making 1/4 of what Pouncey makes could we take Pouncey’s money and put into other spots (Corner, Safety..etc).

    I think we are a better offensive line with Pouncey. I am just unsure that he makes us that much better to justify paying him 4 times as much as Wallace or Velasco.

  • Slab

    I’m unsure what “I rate Pouncey at around the 10th best Center” even means. Do you actually rate Offensive Lineman? Based upon what? Who are the 9 you “rate” ahead of Pouncey using your “rating” system? I know Pouncey has been an All-Pro all 3 years of his career prior to last year’s injury in the first game of the season. Being an All-pro certainly puts him a bit higher than #10 among groups like NFL coaches/executives and NFL writers. Not sure where blog commenter fits in there…..

  • JT

    Dont you know? Hating on Pouncey is the #2 hippest comment to make after cutting Woodley and ahead of replacing McClendon for no reason.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    I think there are a lot of questions with Pouncey, some of which are addressed here. The one I think that is not addressed is how much value do you want to put in to the center position given the Steelers offensive scheme and other investments in the offense. I don’t know the answer, but if it is a tradeoff between a top center and having a good #2 WR or 2 good tackles, I’m inclined to say you pay those other positions.

    Another question I have with Pouncey is character and demeanor. He has collected more than his share of personal fouls. Normally, I like the guys who play near the edge, but if I couple the personal fouls with his associations with Aaron Hernandez and his brother’s locker room dickishness, that is something I think that needs to be considered before extending him.

  • Jollyrob68

    I want to keep Cody Wallace. He brings a some nastiness with him.

  • Callentown

    I would say that calling someone the #10 rated anything in the NFL is a complement. Far from hating!

  • Callentown

    Where to start..

    First, Pouncey has not been an All-Pro all three years – in 2011, he was. There is a difference between Pro Bowl and All-Pro.

    Next, if you look at ANY rating site, Pouncey is listed in the 10-12 range and they tell why better than I can. The point is, you can find plenty to support if you want.

  • Callentown

    Let me recant that. I rechecked and on the Wiki page see that Pouncey was All-pro 3 years.Bad source info .. my bad!

  • Callentown

    Had some similar concerns about who he runs with but for the most part, it seems like he has this in check better than his brother.

  • NW86

    Exactly. I would agree that Pouncey is better than Wallace and Velasko, but not that much better. If it’s one or the other (and it often is with the cap situation), then I’d invest that money in the secondary, the linebackers, or even WR.

  • joed32

    Personal fouls?

  • Slab

    I wondered what you were talking about. You can’t argue with Pouncey being an All-Pro every year he has actually played. I put a lot more credence in the all-pro status that I do in some fansite’s ranking.

    I think the fact that Velasco and Wallace came in and didn’t completely embarrass themselves has some fans mistakenly thinking they are almost as good as Pouncey for a lower price. Not even close. Velasco had plenty of game film but was cut by the Titans in training camp and not picked up by anyone until week 2. it was great he was available, but there will never be a bidding war for him. Cody Wallace has been on 7 different teams, mostly on practice squads. these guys are not really even journeymen. If Pouncey becomes a FA, he will be sought after.

  • Callentown

    For sure. I’m not saying he’s not very good. I’m saying he’s around #10. Mainly because I see him get thrown around from time to time by Dlineman.

    He’s more athletic and that helps with pulling, but you have to admit, we don’t run up the middle very well.

  • Derick L Young

    Cutting Woodley does not seem that bad from where I am sitting. The dead money will hurt no doubt.

  • JT

    In a year from now, it’s almost unavoidable. But the team isn’t good enough to be better without him this season. The lack of depth alone at OLB, regardless if Worlids stays in town, makes him necessary. The dead money is much more digestible next offseason. People don’t often look at the bigger picture and just want to hang Woodley for his crimes.

  • Derick L Young

    Recently or just when Pouncey was in? I would look more at the RB’s than at Pouncey for a lack of success running in the middle. Now if they struggle with a healthy C and now Bell. Might have a point.

  • JT

    Except the Steelers already decided Center was of importance when they took Pouncey in the first instead of a CB which has almost been a perpetual need.

  • Derick L Young

    Hasn’t he missed 11 games the last 2 years. How much are you really getting from him? This is not the Woodley you remember when Silverback was opposite of him.

  • JT

    That doesn’t matter, though. What does is that you only have one starting capable (barely) OLB under contract for 2014 in Jarvis. Woodley’s cap hit is 13.59. Cutting him makes him cost 14.7 due to prorating. Can you honestly tell me that the Steelers will be a better team in 2014 paying Woodley more money NOT to be on the team?

    EDIT: And yeah, I know about the June 1st cut savings. But that won’t help them in FA and thus can’t improve the team in 2014.

  • Slab

    Who are the 9 better and why haven’t they been all-pro?

  • WIINGY

    Trading him would be a good option if they don’t plan on extending him.
    I’d rather sign Velasco over Mack if the Steeler feel he will be healthy.

  • Derick L Young

    JT, what has he done in the past 2 years? That does matter actually. Why are you willing to pay a player to stay on the sideline and when he does play it is not that good. Certainly not worth his cap hit. You have Jarvis on the right side and you sign Jason to play the left. Which is what they were doing this season with out Woodley. So really nothing would change.

  • Derick L Young

    but why would the Steelers want to trade a player like Pouncey?

  • Callentown

    I can’t answer the second part of your question, but you’ve probably seen on this board the many references to Center ratings and how Pouncey rated #12 in 2012 after rating #10 the year before.

    PFF has some good stuff, but you can’t post URL’s here so you’ll have to look yourself.

    The stats I was looking at recently had Pouncey as a far better run blocker than pass blocker and he was actually rated pretty low in that category.

    Again, the fit for the team is a BIG part of this. But don’t take my word for it, check it out!

  • Callentown

    Jeez, seems to me the Steelers have had trouble running up the middle for a few years, doesn’t it?

    Used to be that on 3rd/4th and 1, we just pushed thru. Now, we look to pass instead and have a low success rate running.

    Obviously there’s more to it than just one lineman!

  • Derick L Young

    and you believe all of that falls on Pouncey? I don’t remember getting those sure 3rd and short with out Bettis. Been awhile. Now with a legit RB and I like Foster, Pouncey, DeCastro.

  • Callentown

    No. Read my last sentence please.

    Again, I like him. It’s just that there ARE better centers in the league. Not sure why that bothers people here.

  • Callentown

    Here try this one:

    Change the DOT to .

    wwwDOTprofootballfocusDOTcom/blog/2012/07/14/three-years-of-pass-blocking-efficiency-centers

  • Derick L Young

    it probably bothers them because they do not think that is true. You can go off offensive line statics but the coaches and GM think Pouncey is a special player. Just from what I have read.

  • Callentown

    DLY, I was so pumped when they drafted him and he had such a great rookie season. And I still like him a lot.

    I am not of the opinion, as some here, that we should trade him. I just try to be a realist. And only sharing my opinion.

  • Slab

    Yeah, I know there are people out there that view Pouncey as over-rated. Most seem to have an agenda of some sort. At least ProFootball Focus is attempting to apply some sort of analytics, I guess. The common thread I see in the Centers that grade out well on the PFF site is experience. The majority of the Centers they graded out highly in Pass Blocking Efficiency are well over 30. So much so that multiple guys on the list are retired…..

  • Slab

    The point for me is this- Pouncey is a young, athletic Center that the Steelers spent a high draft pick on. If the Steelers feel he’s not going to be more of an injury risk than normal and can get him for a decent price. Lock him up. They’ve spent high draft picks on the Oline, I’d like to see those draft picks get a chance to gel and improve. Wouldn’t it be nice to see what a 3 or 4 year run of Foster, Pouncey, DeCastro could do in the middle of the Steeler’s line?

    Another thing about stats as applied to offensive line play- it is very subjective. Is a sack allowed of Big Ben graded the same as a sack allowed of Peyton Manning? Is that fair or even a real stat?

    Let’s look at the sacks allowed on Manning’s last 2 teams and you tell me if it says more about Manning or the Oline. Colts in the 2 years prior to the Manning injury averaged 14.5 sacks allowed a season. In the 3 years without manning they allowed an average of 36. Broncos in the 3 years prior to Manning- 38.7 avg. 2 years with Manning- avg. 20.5. That means the PFF passblocking efficiency of every linemen in Indy went in the tank when Manning got hurt and every lineman on Denver all of a sudden became high ranking.

  • Callentown

    True Slab and good points.

    Truly, I have no concern with the interior three. It’s a shame that the highly drafted Tackles have not proven to work out.

    So much guess-work when it comes to the O-line. Looking back over the past few years, we have more misses than successes with those picks.

    Meanwhile, we see other teams playing rookie tackles each year successfully. Frustrating..

  • Callentown

    Pretty sure that was a list compiled over three years. But honestly, my opinions comes from watching the line play and reading the ratings that get posted on this board from time to time.