Pouncey, O-line stepping up in class

Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey made a smooth NFL debut last Sunday, but can already see why the Tennessee Titans represent a step up in class.

PITTSBURGH – Maurkice Pouncey's twin brother Mike is the reigning SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week, and if the NFL had given a similar award Maurkice would've been a contender after his performance for the Steelers against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Pouncey twins and their respective teams both travel to Tennessee this weekend, and if a sweep is to occur, Maurkice will have to play an even better game than he did in his debut.

"They're real good," Pouncey said of the Tennessee Titans after watching tape. "They rotate a lot of guys. They rotate four men at a time."

The Steelers know all too well the difficulty of blocking the interior of the Titans' defensive front. For example:

* In games the last two seasons, the Steelers totaled 731 yards of offense. Only 109 yards were gained on the ground at a clip of 2.3 per carry.

* In those two games, the Titans totaled 9 sacks. All 9 came from the defensive line, with 6 of the 9 coming from defensive tackles Jason Jones (4½) and Tony Brown (1½).

The bad news for Pouncey and the Steelers is that Jones and Brown will play in Sunday's game. The good news is that the likes of Jevon Kearse, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Keith Bulluck and David Thornton are gone.

The Titans, in fact, were so worried about their front that they drafted defensive end Derrick Morgan in the first round. And they were so thin at linebacker, they picked up Patrick Bailey and Tim Shaw off the waiver wire and played both in last week's opener.

The Titans' once-formidable rotating front seven now includes the likes of Jason Babin, Dave Ball, Will Witherspoon, Jovan Haye, Sen'Derrick Marks, and Jamie Winborn.

Who are these guys?

Willie Colon knows. He remembers the Titans of the last few years, and even though the Steelers' right tackle is injured and out, he watches tape and believes these Titans are actually better than those Titans.

"I think it's the opposite," Colon said. "I'll give you that the loss of Vanden Bosch hurts them, and they are no-name guys as far as being big-time guys, but they're an extremely athletic group."

The statistics from last week's opening-game win against the Oakland Raiders partially support Colon's theory. The Raiders were able to run on the Titans to the tune of 5.4 yards per carry, but the Titans overran the porous Raiders protection for 4 sacks, three-quarters of which were recorded by defensive linemen.

"They're not as big as they used to be up front with the loss of Haynesworth and some of the other guys," Colon said, "but they're extremely athletic, and their defense is geared around their front because they move them a lot.

"They do a lot of stunting in the interior, they cause a lot of pressure, and they're relentless. They really get after the ball. They're one of those outfits that lull you to sleep because they don't make a lot of wow plays. But they do a great job of keeping teams behind the chains and making them try to make big chunks and big plays. The secondary's good, but it's not as good as it used to be. Their interior and linebacking corps is very good."

That puts a significant portion on Pouncey's plate. The rookie was impeccable with his calls in the cozy confines of Heinz Field against a front four that pretty much stayed intact throughout, both in name and style. But the venue and the style this Sunday will be much different.

"You've just got to go by your rules, the rules you know," Pouncey said, as he was strapping on the pads before Thursday's practice. "Today we're going to work on it some more."

NOTES – QB Byron Leftwich (knee) worked a bit at Thursday's practice, and wouldn't rule himself out of Sunday's game. "Hey, I didn't rule myself out of last Sunday's game," he said with a laugh. It's highly unlikely that Leftwich will play Sunday, however. … WR Arnaz Battle (knee) returned to practice, but LT Max Starks (ankle) did not.


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