Rookie Can't Take Pouncey's Snaps

If Landry Jones walks on the field, Maurkice Pouncey walks off, or over, or to the other side. Pouncey explains in another Friday notebook.

PITTSBURGH -- Maurkice Pouncey is the best center in the NFL, so it must be considered a privilege for any quarterback to receive his snaps.

At least that's the way Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin sees it. And his rookie quarterback, Landry Jones, has yet to earn that privilege.

"We'll see in training camp," said Pouncey, who actually moved to right tackle when Jones made a rare appearance with the first-team offensive line Thursday at the final OTA of the season, this one at rain-soaked Heinz Field.

The moment in question occurred during the second of three scheduled scrimmage sets Thursday.

Without Ben Roethlisberger, Jones, the fourth-round pick, moved up to third team and entered the fray for a single rep. Pouncey reflexively switched spots with right tackle Kelvin Beachum, but it wasn't to add versatility to Pouncey's glittering portfolio.

"Coach didn't want me to snap to Landry Jones," Pouncey said with a shrug. "You've got to earn that privilege."

Say, what?

"Well," Pouncey explained, "Coach said Landry has to be able to – I don't know how to say it – but he has to earn the privilege to touch my ass, and he hasn't done it yet, so Beachum had to go to center."

Oh.

Pouncey appeared a bit embarrassed by the explanation, but shook it off with a laugh.

"It played out pretty cool, man," he said.

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On a more serious note, Pouncey was sorry to see the only backup he's had in the NFL, Doug Legursky, move on to the Buffalo Bills as a free agent Wednesday.

Legursky, of course, started for the injured Pouncey in Super Bowl 45, started three games at center in 2011 (including another post-season game), and also started two games at center last season.

Legursky also had started 13 regular-season starts at guard during his four-year stay with the Steelers, but the team lost confidence in his guard play and began moving Pouncey to that spot when necessary. It likely played a role in the decision to allow Legursky to leave in free agency without having anyone with appreciable NFL experience along the interior.

"It's going to put a lot of pressure on Beachum/Malecki now," Pouncey said. "I think they'll be able to handle it."

Pouncey used both names – Beachum and John Malecki – together as if both combined would have to fill the role.

Beachum has received a smattering of first-team center reps this spring. A rookie tackle last season, Beachum is also working at guard, so he and backup tackle Guy Whimper are roster locks at this point.

The eighth lock for the roster is probably Malecki, the former Pitt right guard who filled in at that position in last season's finale against Cleveland. It was his first NFL appearance since beginning his four-team practice-squad odyssey in 2010.

Malecki, who at a listed 6-2, 298 is built like Legursky, has also been alternating with Beachum as a reserve center this spring.

"Same size, they do the same kind of technique, so it's pretty cool to see it," Pouncey said of the Malecki-Legursky comparison. "But like I said, ever since I've been here Legursky has always been a reliable guy. We have to find who that next reliable guy will be. I'm pretty sure Beachum/Malecki are ready for that. I'm OK with them."

Numbers nine and 10 on the offensive line depth chart, though, will have to come from the undrafted/street free-agent pool of players already in tow, or from among the ever-thinning ranks of what's already a picked-over pool of available veterans on the market. As I've written since January, it's a bright red flag on the depth chart.

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DeMarcus Van Dyke made his position coach, Carnell Lake, smile and remark positively to Tomlin on the field the other day after Van Dyke smothered the smaller Emmanuel Sanders on a deep pattern down the sideline.

Van Dyke looks like a champ – in shorts, as do several of an exceptionally quick group of backup cornerbacks fighting for roster spots this off-season.

"I feel good – if it's a track meet," said Tomlin. "But can they get the man on the ground? That's what we need to find out."

Tomlin put one of his 4.3 sprinters, Justin King, on IR yesterday and added undrafted rookie Nigel Malone of Kansas State in his place.

I've watched Malone play twice: Against Kansas he returned an interception 55 yards, and in the East-West Shrine game he returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown.

Little wonder I believed the savvy, 5-10, 185-pound zone corner who led the Big 12 in interceptions in 2011 would be a fit for the Steelers. But Malone went undrafted last April and signed with the Indianapolis Colts, who cut him last month.

Malone has a long list of players to pass before making the roster, or even the practice squad, and here's how those players have looked so far:

* Curtis Brown is the fourth corner and is looking as feisty, quick and nimble as he did through two previous off-seasons. Keenan Lewis looked good through two off-seasons, too, before breaking through the disappointment as a third-year player.

* Van Dyke has been given Lewis's No. 23 and from a distance looks the part. But he is skinny. Another 4.3 sprinter, Van Dyke is being watched closely because of that speed and his long limbs. But can he tackle?

* Josh Victorian was beaten badly on a double move for a touchdown by Kashif Moore earlier this spring. A small, skinny Pitt player sitting next to me on a bench waited respectfully for another play to be run before asking me "Who's number 35?" I told him it's Victorian, and I asked him if he plays cornerback for Pitt. He said he did, and I said, "So now you know you have a chance to make it in this league, don't you?" The kid just smiled.

Victorian – who came into the spring with a strong share of support from the organization because of his physicality – has continued to be burned by double moves.

* Isaiah Green was a late-season pick-up last year and has blazing speed, which he's used this spring to not only knock away deep passes but to blitz. Green, though, will also have to show "he can get the guy on the ground" at training camp.

* Terry Hawthorne is the fifth-round pick who underwent a minor knee operation and has missed most of spring drills. He's been there every day, though, helping out coaches when he can. He's an enthusiastic rookie, but is raw and likely headed for the practice squad. People with whom I've talked don't dismiss him that readily, though, because they're holding out hope he can show some killer kick-coverage skills at training camp.


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