On the Steelers: No. 1 draft pick Pouncey escapes serious injury
Steeler offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey has injured his left toe examined by assistant athletic trainer Ariko Iso during Wednesday's practice.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, right, and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians watch practice.
Steelers quarterbacks Byron Leftwich, left, and Charlie Batch confer during practice.
Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, center, talks to to Arnaz Battle, left, and Antwaan Randle El during practice.
Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall goes through drills during practice.
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No contact is supposed to take place in NFL spring practices, yet try telling that to rookie Maurkice Pouncey's big left toe.
Guard Trai Essex stomped on it early in practice Wednesday, and Pouncey yelped in pain as trainers rushed to check the damage.
An injury to the first-round draft choice who has not yet signed a contract in a non-contact spring drill may not rank up there with losing your starting quarterback to suspension for the first four games, but it is not a good thing, either.
"Oh, man, 330 pounds on a toe!" Pouncey exclaimed long after the pain subsided and it was determined no serious injury had occurred. After trainers inspected and wiggled his big piggy for several minutes, Pouncey bounced back up and completed the drill.
"I felt it a little bit at first, but I got back in there and couldn't let the guys down."
The interesting part of that drill was the position Pouncey played -- center. Starting center Justin Hartwig has been limited in practice because he had shoulder surgery after the season, and Doug Legursky, who has been running as the No. 1 center, had a minor issue and watched practice.
So Pouncey and Kraig Urbik played center Wednesday. Pouncey is a past and future center who Steelers coaches said would play right guard this season. Urbik was drafted as a guard last year, but is trying to add to his repertoire after mostly watching games in street clothes as a rookie in 2009.
"Nowadays in the NFL most teams dress seven linemen on gameday," said new offensive line coach Sean Kugler, who coached the Buffalo Bills' offensive linemen last season. "So, if you're not in the starting five and you are one of the backups, you have to play two positions."
Pouncey is competing against Essex, Urbik and Ramon Foster to start at right guard, which belonged to the now-departed Darnell Stapleton a year ago before he buckled to knee surgery in August. Essex took over from there.
Pouncey not only is trying to compete at a new position for a starting job, he also is trying to get up to snuff with playing center in the pros. The Steelers wanted Pouncey to concentrate on playing right guard as a rookie, but it seems that already is out the window.
Kugler also said something interesting when asked whether the competition at right guard would continue through training camp.
"There will be competition across the line, and I think the competition with the players we added and players on the roster will only make us better."
Perhaps right guard is not the only starting job up for grabs, and maybe Pouncey will not be limited to competing at just one position.
"We've been working him at center and guard," Kugler said.
"He's been taking reps at two different groups. Today, he worked mainly at center. That will be the plan with Maurkice, continue to work him at guard and center. He's a player we feel can play both."
Add Rashard Mendenhall to the lengthy list of running backs who, given their choice, would opt for a true fullback to block for them vs. all other alternatives.
"As a running back, you want a fullback," Mendenhall said Wednesday. "A fullback is another set of eyes in the backfield, they kind of read and feel through things that receivers and tight ends don't normally do, so, as a running back, you want that."
The Steelers' offense under coordinator Bruce Arians rarely has used a true fullback, preferring to go with a tight end (Sean McHugh or David Johnson) in the backfield or no other back at all. Frank Summers, drafted last year as a halfback, has been learning the fullback position and so has 270-pound rookie Demetrius Taylor, a defensive tackle at Virginia Tech and a running back in high school.
Mendenhall listed some of the advantages of having a fullback blocking for him instead of a tight end either on the line or in the backfield.
"A fullback in the backfield, they can kind of see a lot of things a tight end probably couldn't, being so tight. And them being ballcarriers, they know what you're trying to do, they know where you're trying to go and they can get there before you. So, a lot of times, say the point of attack is one place, the fullback and you will end up in same place after reading out of a play."
Mendenhall said it is too early to tell if there is a renewed commitment to the ground game. Naturally, he said, all backs want a commitment to the run.
"As a running back, you want the ball in your hands, you want to run the ball. That doesn't seem to be our focus, you know what I mean? But whatever's called to do, however this offense is formed and shaped, we'll be willing to do that."
First Published May 27, 2010 12:00 am