Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey tears up while speaking to the media after signing a six-year, $48 million contract at the Steelers South Side training facility on Thursday.
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A few years ago, when he was young, foolish and immature, Maurkice Pouncey got into a Twitter war with a fan named Rick, who actually had the audacity to -- do you believe it? -- criticize him.
"I'm rich play for the Steelers and have a awesome life!" Pouncey tweeted. "U wish u had my life!! Your a loser Rick!"
Thursday, when he officially took on obscenely wealthy status, Pouncey was much more humble with no apparent hate. He broke down in tears at Steelers headquarters when the team announced it had signed him to a new six-year, $48 million contract. The deal made him the NFL's highest-paid center.
This was a good day, not just for Pouncey and the Steelers, but for the team's fans.
Even Rick should applaud the Pouncey signing.
"They're a super group," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said of his offensive linemen. "[Pouncey] is the glue that holds everyone together."
After years of being a weakness, the offensive line -- from left to right, Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Pouncey, David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert -- has a chance to be the Steelers' best unit, if it isn't already. With Pouncey signed for the long term, there is no reason the group can't grow together and become one of the best lines in the NFL. The team has used four first- or second-round draft choices on it, including one on backup tackle Mike Adams, and has bet millions on its development.
The line was strong last season even without Pouncey, although his season-ending knee injury on the eighth play of the first game against Tennessee was a huge part of the Steelers' 0-4 start. When the team finally recovered from that blow, both from an X's-and-O's standpoint and an emotional one, the line's improvement was dramatic thanks to the stability provided by Pouncey's replacement, Fernando Velasco. Roethlisberger was sacked seven times in the final seven games after going down 35 times in the first nine. The running game with back Le'Veon Bell had more bite. The offense -- primarily a no-huddle version that pleased Roethlisberger to no end -- averaged 28.2 points in the final nine games, six of which were wins.
New line coach Mike Munchak will make the linemen even better this season. He was a Hall of Fame guard in his NFL career. How can he not make his guys better?
Pouncey also will make a sizable impact. The reason goes well beyond the fact he made the Pro Bowl each of his first three seasons.
"He's a relentless worker," former Steelers line coach Sean Kugler once said of Pouncey. "It's his energy. I've never seen him have a bad day. He's so positive."
The Steelers are counting on Pouncey's work ethic rubbing off on his teammates. DeCastro, who looks very much like a future All-Pro, might not need extra motivation, but Gilbert probably does. Pouncey will demand Gilbert's best and won't let him slack off, which Gilbert has done from time to time.
Some have called Pouncey injury-prone, but that seems harsh. It's not as if he's former Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who had a variety of leg injuries, at least in part, because he didn't train hard enough. Pouncey's knee injury last season was a fluke, the result of friendly fire when DeCastro inadvertently took him out with a chop block. Pouncey missed Super Bowl XLV against Green Bay after the 2010 season because of an ankle injury and the playoff game against Denver after the 2011 season because of a similar problem. Surgery has corrected his ankle issues.
The Steelers believe Pouncey is just fine and will hold up. They also have no worries about his character.
We're not talking about his twin brother, Mike, who plays center for the Miami Dolphins, was linked to the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin bullying case last season and has been subpoenaed by a grand jury in connection with the murder case of former University of Florida teammate Aaron Hernandez. Maurkice Pouncey's tweet to Rick was childish, but it's nice to think Pouncey learned from it. He also was photographed with his brother in the summer of 2013 wearing a "Free Hernandez" hat. Maurkice Pouncey realized it was a stupid thing to do and quickly apologized, something Mike Pouncey refused to do.
Steelers coaches and players think the world of their Pouncey. The importance of that should not be underestimated. Coach Mike Tomlin made Pouncey offensive captain when Roethlisberger missed three games with a rib injury in the 2012 season. Pouncey was 23, in just his third NFL season.
It's no wonder Roethlisberger was so happy Thursday after hearing the Pouncey contract news.
"I hope I have no more centers the rest of my career. Just him."
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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