NFL Draft: Steelers pounce on Pouncey



The Steelers had 10 minutes to make their choice in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night, yet wasted little time in taking center Maurkice Pouncey of Florida.

They did not even give other teams time to pitch them a trade.

"He was just that good," director of football operations Kevin Colbert explained simply, time after time.

Pouncey, 6 feet 5, 305 pounds, is the first center drafted by the Steelers in the first round since World War II. And starting today, he will be a guard.

The Steelers plan to start out Pouncey, 20, at guard, where he started as a freshman at Florida before switching to center the past two years.

Coach Mike Tomlin explained that starting him out at guard, where the Steelers have had four different starters since the 2008 training camp, will ease his learning curve in the NFL.

"As a young guy coming in, it's probably easier coming in at guard," Tomlin said. "The guard is one who receives information rather than gives it. Hopefully, that eases his workload."

It would be the same path Dermontti Dawson followed with the Steelers.

He played right guard as a rookie in 1988, then switched to center in 1989 after Mike Webster retired. Dawson remained their starter for 12 years, made seven Pro Bowls and came close to joining Webster in the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year when he reached the final 10 candidates.

Justin Hartwig, 32, will enter his third season as the Steelers' starting center, but there is no strong candidate to start at right guard. Although someone thinks there is.

"That's my plan," said Pouncey, a starter in 39 games in his three seasons at Florida

"Man, it's so great," in his first interview after the Steelers drafted him.

"I'm so happy to be a Pittsburgh Steeler. I'm so happy they picked me. I just like the Steelers so much."

He said he came upon those feelings only recently, not growing up a Steelers fan but becoming one after spending time talking with them.

He said he is aware of the Steelers' long, distinguished history at center, where Webster, Dawson and Jeff Hartings handled the position for three decades and combined for 18 Pro Bowls.

"They're great players, man," Pouncey said. "I just want to live up to the tradition."

Pouncey, who does not turn 21 until July, decided to leave Florida a year early to enter the NFL draft, leaving behind his twin brother Michael, the Gators' starting right guard.

"We knew at some time in our life we would separate," said Pouncey, whose given name is LaShawn but goes by his middle name.

By drafting Pouncey, the Steelers passed up one of the Big Four left offensive tackles, Bryan Bulaga, who was drafted by Green Bay at No. 23.

A flurry of four trades were made in the three picks from 11 through 13 (the selection at No. 13 was traded twice) as the Steelers watched how it might affect their pick at 18.

The draft continues today with rounds two and three and concludes Saturday with rounds four through seven. The Steelers have nine more picks over the next two days -- one in each round plus four in the fifth. They traded one of their two seventh-round picks to Tampa Bay this week for veteran quarterback Byron Leftwich.

Colbert said the Steelers likely will stay where they are at the 20th pick in Round Two and not try to trade up because he believes this draft is too good to give up the picks it would cost them in a trade.

"We're just going to stay put," Colbert said. "There are a lot of quality players to be had Friday and Saturday."

Pouncey was ranked head and shoulders above all other centers, and the Steelers knew he also could play guard.

The Steelers last drafted a center in the first round in 1937, Mike Basrak of Duquesne. The ballclub lists center Chet Gladchuck as a first-round pick in 1941, but they traded away their first-round pick that year, and Gladchuck was a second-rounder.

The Steelers began training camp last year with Darnell Stapleton as their starting right guard -- he took over when Kendall Simmons was injured in 2008.

Stapleton, though, had knee surgery and Trai Essex became their starter and, when he got hurt late in the season, undrafted rookie Ramon Foster moved in.


For more on the Steelers, read Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com . First Published April 23, 2010 4:00 AM


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