The Pessimist’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 pessimistic side of the coin.

Question: What will the Steelers be getting from Maurkice Pouncey in 2014?

The Steelers were dealt quite a blow early in the opening day loss when All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey went down with a torn ACL as a result of a friendly fire incident. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley himself acknowledged that the team was still reeling from that loss for a while after it happened.

Whenever you lose an All-Pro player, it has a far-reaching impact on team dynamics on the field. While journeymen centers Fernando Velasco and Cody Wallace performed admirably overall, their physical limitations and lack of cohesion with the rest of the line were obvious, as neither were with the team in camp.

After landing on the All-Pro team in his first three seasons, he spent all but eight snaps in year four off the field, so naturally he’ll be looking to regain his status as arguably one of the top centers in the league.

But how realistic will that be?

It is true that he will be returning to perhaps the best scenario that he has seen since coming into the league. With guards Ramon Foster and David DeCastro, playing the best ball of their respective careers, flanking him on either side and new offensive line coach extraordinaire Mike Munchak leading the charge and hopefully understanding how to maximize his athleticism, it would certainly seem the line is finally poised to take that last step.

But while he’ll be nearly a year removed from ACL surgery once the year actually starts, it seems nearly assured that he will be impacted in some form. While players such as Max Starks and Casey Hampton were able to make relatively seamless returns the next year, their positions are rather immobile on the whole, which presents a different set of circumstances from what Pouncey will be facing.

More accurately, we all saw Heath Miller most recently struggle to return from his own ACL injury, missing the first two games of the year and subsequently lacking separation in coverage and poor footing as a blocker. Running back Rashard Mendenhall also missed the early portions of his return and suffered another injury while trying to compensate for his reconstructed knee.

While those two injuries occurred later in the year and Pouncey’s was early on, there’s reason to believe it will still be an issue. For one, his superior athleticism is a very large part of what makes Pouncey successful, not only in blocking players larger than him but also getting on the move and downfield.

There’s no telling how long it might take for Pouncey to feel comfortable on his reconstructed knee, and that’s a very important process for a center, who is literally in the center of the action. And center is one of the most important positions on offense, so if your center is off his game, your whole line might not be in sync.

The Steelers had better hope that Pouncey’s youth and athleticism will allow him to recover quickly and perhaps participate a bit in the preseason to get his sea legs back before the start of the regular season. Otherwise the team could be off to another rocky start, if he’s ever even able to get back into form at all. We’ve seen what this line looks like without a quality cener between Pouncey and Jeff Hartings, and it wasn’t pretty.

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

    Atleast it happened very early on and not late in the season.

    Lockup C.Wallace on a 2-3yr deal and bring Velasco back if healthy enough on a 1yr deal to possibly compete in camp and preseason

  • Aric Brown

    What are the thoughts on trying to move pouncey? Pouncey has been great but very inury prone… i’d like to try and move him for a 2nd rounder.. its starting to look like center is one of the easier positions to play for the steelers as the dropoff was minor and unnoticeable later in the season… JMO

  • dgh57

    Don’t see Pouncey going anywhere! One season under Munchack’s tutelage, playing next to DeCastro, and finally getting this new Zone Blocking Scheme installed(of which he is better suited for)is going to work wonders for our OL but especially for the 2 best on the OL in Pouncey and DeCastro. Because of the all that he mostly likely will be getting a extension in 2015! As for being injury prone we both know it wasn’t his fault for being put on IR last year and besides that it’s par for the course when it comes to injuries to the OL as injuries have dogged our OL for years now.

  • dgh57

    Where does Ebernasty fit in here? Can’t forget about him!

  • 804Stiller

    I was thinking the same thing. Could trading 53 be a good idea? There has to be good trade value there. He is due for a contract soon and we might end up overpaying for his talents. “Sometimes your best ability is availability.” Take the ACL injury out the picture because it wasn’t anything he could do about that but it just seems like he has missed the biggest games of his career. I think Velasco and Wallace did really well in his absence.

  • steeltown

    I was referring to the Center position.. and camp battles
    Im not sure what’s going to happen with Embernate.. hopefully he shows some position flexibility

  • ATL96STEELER

    I thought getting rid of the last OL coach (name escapes me) meant scrapping the ZBS…no?

    To your point…Pouncey was a victim of friendly fire LY…nothing he could’ve done about that one…he is a PB player when he’s on the field, but PIT has to have a plan B…if they get 3 comp picks (Wallace, Lewis, M’hall?) they need to spend a pick on a C/G player because I’m not sure Pouncey will finish out his career in PIT.

  • Aric Brown

    My thoughts exactly seems we are in the minority though…

  • dgh57

    The reason I brought it up is because the Center positions battles affects the OG position because Valasko can play OG, Wallace as a pure Center, with only 2 spots left and one of them has to be a OT. Either Velasko or Wallace will be allowed to walk. I see Wallace as more likely to be retained because he’ll probably accept a backup job. Don’t see Velasko willing to ride the bench the whole season.

  • dgh57

    Munchak replaced Jack Bicknell. Pretty sure Munchak ran the ZBS when he was with the Titans and we were going to run it last year so I don’t see any reason to go back to the Power Scheme. Our plan B is Wallace or Velasko and yes we could draft a player as a plan C player. I don’t know about finishing his career with us but I think he sees a 2nd contract with us.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Titans…I’m not gathering that they did, certainly not exclusively…that point is not significant imo…really just need to keep Pouncey on the field this season.

    If he plays this year injury free I think there’s a good chance he does get a 2nd contract in PIT, else, I’m not confident that he will.

  • dgh57

    Can’t say the Titans run a ZBS all the time but if you go back to the highlights when we faced them you’ll see what I mean. The ZBS will fit Pouncey and DeCastro skills better because they ran with it in College and it fits their skill set better than the Power Scheme we run now. It’s like trying to get a CB to play press man coverage when he played mostly zone coverage in College. If you want good results the scheme has to fit the players skill set.

  • Heywood Jablome

    I agree with some of the other posters. I would certainly consider trading Pouncey if we got good value for him. I like what Velasco and Wallace did at center last year. But, I’m more worried about Pouncey for the following reasons (none of which is too major, but add up):
    1. I think it will take Pouncey quite some time to get back up to speed on his knee.
    2. Pouncey does seem to have some injury issues in his pro career.
    3. I’ve always thought Pouncey was just a bit overrated.
    4. Pouncey is considered a leader, but he has vouched for more than his fair share of guys and been wrong – Marcus Gilbert (work ethic), Chris Rainey (character issues), and then you have the free Aaron Hernandez hat that he and his twin brother were wearing. Plus, if you look at his brother, he was at a minimum interviewed for interstate gun trafficking and was a big part of the problem in the Dolphins’ locker room Incognito/Martin fiasco. Are these twins the high character guys they are supposed to be?

    Add all of these up, and I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to selling high. I think Velasco and Wallace could at least hold their own. They’re both way better than Sean Mahan/Justin Hartwig were.

  • ATL96STEELER

    ZBS…but I’m not really debating the merits or demerits of the scheme related to the personnel. Whatever the scheme was the OL did improve as the year went along, so I was a little surprised Bicknell was let go.

    Landing a HOF player as a position coach I see as a positive…I trust that he’ll get the most out of the OL talent on the team.

  • dgh57

    What I’m trying to get across is the significance(or importance)of running the ZBS which seems we both differ on. The offense showed much improvement in the 2nd half of the season because we used the no huddle and Ben got the ball out sooner. Those two things will be used only in situations where they’ll be needed. The majority of the time we’ll be using the base offense so to speak and therefore we need to run the offense that best suit the players skill set.

  • Heywood Jablome

    I was surprised Bicknell Jr was let go, too. But from what I read, it sounds like Bicknell was stripped of his responsibilities about half way through the season, and it was the assistant o-line coach that spurred the line’s improvement. Bringing in Munch, however, should be a home run.

  • ATL96STEELER

    What I’ve long since conceded here is that you’re far more in tune with the intimate details of the ZBS and how it relates to the players than I am.

    I understand the principles of it, and if that best suits the players, I’m all in…We’re really more on the same page than not.