There is a noticeable difference in guard David DeCastro, the Steelers' No. 1 pick in 2012, and his teammates noticed it right away.
But it is not just the added weight and muscle that have pushed him to a sturdy 317 pounds. Or the confident manner in which he is able to surge off the line of scrimmage on his surgically healed right knee.
The biggest change in DeCastro is the one everyone has heard at training camp.
"He's a lot more talkative than he was the first year," center Maurkice Pouncey said.
"I think everyone appreciates that."
"In the beginning, we could barely get two words out of David," guard Ramon Foster said. "I thought he was going to be a stiff the entire way, but he's opened up. He's definitely more chatty than before."
It's the new David DeCastro.
He rarely had much to say last season, from the time he arrived at training camp through the end of an injury-shortened rookie season. Even his teammates remarked how quiet and serious he was, rarely speaking with them, too.
And it wasn't because DeCastro had little to say. He majored in management, science and engineering at Stanford and is the son of South African parents. His college roommate, Andrew Luck, even said "he's a funny guy when you get to know him"
But DeCastro, who was rated the best guard in the 2012 NFL draft, is all football. He displays a stern-faced, teeth-clenched intensity with absolutely no interest in talking about himself. He does his talking on the field.
But all that is starting to change, and it is hard not to notice.
"I guess he figured, well, I got to be with these guys for a few years I might as well do it," Foster said, smiling.
"He had to open up. He warmed slowly, but David is David. He's a fun dude."
DeCastro was all but handed a starting job at right guard in training camp last season and, with Pouncey, was going to form one of the best and youngest tandem of interior blockers in the league.
But that all changed in the third preseason game in Buffalo when DeCastro sustained multiple ligament tears in his right knee.
DeCastro was placed on the injured reserve/designated for return list, meaning he had to sit out at least the first eight games of the regular season before he was eligible to return. DeCastro returned to the 53-man roster Nov. 26, but he did not appear in a game until Dec. 16 in Dallas.
That was the first of three consecutive games he started at right guard, and DeCastro was glad for the playing time in an injury-interrupted season.
"It helped a lot," DeCastro said.
"It was definitely a good experience. It didn't go as well as I wanted it to, but it was good experience."
DeCastro's knee, though, was not fully recovered, and it was apparent with his inability to surge off the line of scrimmage. He said it was well after the season before his knee was 100 percent and felt as though "you're functional, you can move normal."
Now there is no visible evidence DeCastro is bothered by his injury.
"He's awesome, he's healthy," Pouncey said. "You would have seen it last year if he never got injured.
"He came back strong last year and now he has an opportunity to really get after guys. He's really athletic. He can get around [the] edge and is strong at the same time."
"He looks good," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "He's one of those young guys we're counting on this year to step in and play great ball. He's gained weight, he's gotten stronger. We expect him to hold down that right side."
DeCastro and Pouncey are not only the future of the offensive line, they are the model for the type of athletic, mobile linemen the Steelers like to employ. Both are tough and nasty inside, but can run to the edge and execute the outside zone-blocking schemes the team will use this season.
"I think that's the key in this day and age," DeCastro said.
"It's definitely transformed from what it was in the '90s, from big bodies pounding on each other. You got to be able to do more than just one thing."
Including chatting it up.Steelers - mobilehome - homepage
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @gerrydulac. First Published August 2, 2013 4:00 AM