Malecki fits in on line with Pittsburgh ease

STEELERS


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He has gushed over getting a follow on Twitter from a local radio personality, referred to NBC hockey analysts as "jags" and posted pictures of his favorite pregame beverage before a Penguins playoff game.

Snagged up some Turner tea to get my #yinz on for the game tonight. It's a hockey night in Pittsburgh!

Just another "yinzer" with a Twitter account.

Only John Malecki isn't just another yinzer. This 6-foot-2, 300-pound Murrysville native plays offensive line for the Steelers.

"You don't really realize it when you're in the city," said Malecki, a Franklin Regional High School and Pitt graduate. "When you go other places, they say, 'What is that accent? What is that yinz word you say?' I got a couple of friends on other teams I played for and they say I'm the worst yinzer ever. I'm like, dude, you have no idea."

When he's not entertaining on Twitter -- with his #yinz and #yinzer hashtags -- Malecki is busy with his day job on the South Side, where he is trying to establish himself as an NFL player after three seasons on practice squads in Tampa Bay and Washington, in addition to the Steelers.

This is an important summer for Malecki. Under NFL rules, he has exhausted his practice squad eligibility and must make the 53-man roster out of training camp. If not, he'll be released and his spot will be taken by a younger player.

"This year is a make or break year," said Malecki, 25, who is attempting to make the team as a versatile interior lineman. "I don't have any p-squad eligibility left. I'm kind of using it as a motivational thing now. My mindset is I have to go out and make this team. I don't have any opportunities to be put on the back burner. I understand how the business works. I've been around long enough now. I just have to keep my head up and keep working."

Malecki spent his first two seasons at Pitt as a defensive lineman, then moved to the offensive line before his junior year. He was a two-year starter at guard and played well enough that he signed a free-agent contract with the Tennessee Titans after he went undrafted in 2010.

The Titans released him in training camp and the Browns picked him up. But his stint in Cleveland lasted only two weeks before the Browns released him at the end of their training camp. He spent the rest of his rookie season on Tampa Bay's practice squad before splitting time between the practice squads of the Steelers and Redskins in 2011.

Malecki rejoined the Steelers last season and spent half the season on the practice squad before being promoted to the 53-man roster in November. In the regular-season finale against Cleveland, Malecki finally got to play in an NFL game, the Steelers' 24-10 victory at Heinz Field.

"It was an amazing experience to be able to get on the field, but I just took it in stride," Malecki said. "I have to keep using it as a springboard to get better this season."

The Steelers liked enough of what they saw from Malecki and decided not to re-sign veteran Doug Legurksy, who served as a versatile reserve guard and center the past five seasons. They also did not draft an offensive lineman in April, giving Malecki a better opportunity to make the team.

When the Steelers report to training camp at the end of July, Malecki will be listed as the backup to starting right guard David DeCastro, but he has been taking reps behind Maurkice Pouncey at center, too. With only eight active linemen on game days, players must have the versatility to play multiple positions.

"I'm glad to have an opportunity," Malecki said. "With Doug gone, it's a little different dynamic. I understand there is a void there for someone who can fill a good backup role like Doug did for the past four or five years. I understand if I want to fill that role I have to be as good or better than Doug was and continue to get better."

Legursky and Malecki took similar paths to the NFL. Legursky went undrafted out of Marshall in 2008 and spent time on the practice squad before earning a job on the 53-man roster. He played in 50 games in his five years with the Steelers and started 17, including Super Bowl XLV when Pouncey could not play because of a high ankle sprain.

Legursky recently signed with Buffalo and will try to make its roster this season.

"My first year here, Doug took me under his wing," Malecki said. "He knew my circumstance, being brought in as a free agent, brought in for camp. He knew what kind of opportunity I'd have on the practice squad with a great organization like this one, one that buys into coaching up their p-squad players."

Legursky took advantage when he received his opportunity, and Malecki is looking to do the same.

"You have to approach each season as if it's going to be the season," Malecki said. "You never know in this sport when your number will be called or when it's going to be your last play. You just have to go in every single day and give everything you have. You don't have multiple years guaranteed to you. You don't even have multiple days guaranteed to you the way this business works."

Steelers - mobilehome

Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published June 15, 2013 4:00 AM


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