PITTSBURGH -- Of the "old men" at the top of the Pittsburgh Steelers' tenure list, Ben Roethlisberger has missed a handful of OTA voluntary workouts, James Harrison has missed them all, Lawrence Timmons has missed at least one and Antonio Brown missed the first two.
The key word, of course, is voluntary, as in, hey, Maurkice Pouncey, you're allowed to take a day off, maybe give your left leg a day off. It's VOLUNTARY.
And why not? Pouncey endured "different surgeries and different infections" after suffering an ankle/fibula injury last preseason that caused him to spend the year "on the couch."
Why not take a day off? Just about everyone else has.
"Nah, I'm too young," said Pouncey. "Maybe when I'm like 32 I'll take a step back, but now I'm too young. I'm ready to rock. This leg's young; this body's young. A couple of bad-luck surgeries ain't gonna hold me back, baby."
They haven't. Not only is Pouncey practicing, he's practicing with reckless abandon.
That silverback gorilla whipping the four-year-old around? That's Pouncey here in even the most minor of drills. Pouncey gets nasty when he's merely holding a blocking pad and pretending to be a defensive lineman for the second and third-team centers receiving technical instruction.
Yeah, the team definitely has its nasty back.
"Ain't no day off (working against) me," Pouncey said. "Everybody knows that. You're going to work when you're in front of me, that's for sure. The coach show that (stuff). That (stuff) gets the other guys going and gets the young guys better. I'm next-level D-lineman. I'm a Pro Bowl D-lineman, too."
Pouncey clearly was worked up, even while doing a post-practice interview. The guy just loves everything about football.
"I see you, Pounce!" Roethlisberger shouted the other day as Pouncey got out in front of a sweep. And the thing is, everybody sees Pounce. He's an inspiration with his aggression, with his mobility and agility, and afterward with his words.
"I'm getting it man. I feel it. I'm young again. (Blank) this," he said with a big smile and those intense eyes.
Excuse the man for being a bit worked up.
Funny thing though, he had succeeded in holding back his typical ebullience during a mob interview following his first practice this spring.
"Yeah, I was getting my groove back," he said Thursday in a one-on-one setting following the Steelers' sixth OTA workout. "You know, you sit on the couch and you're laying there for five months, you've got to get back out here and test the waters first. But it was cool."
And his mobility has been passing tests. Pouncey is doing the things that made him an All-Pro in all four of the seasons in which he wasn't severely injured in either the preseason or the opener.
The aggression and the leadership and the fiery enthusiasm have been top level, but it's the mobility that makes him unique.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm doing that. I'm back to me. I feel great," he said. "When I went through everything, I was just worried about being able to play football again. But once you come out here and you get the flow, things just come back natural to you. So once I got out here I just felt great again."
Pouncey was supposed to come back at some point last season. He was ready for it. But an infection set in, as did complications. All of his plans for joining a contending team late in the season were shredded.
Did he break stuff?
"Yeah, I almost went crazy, man, to be honest with you," he said. "But I've got a good group of linemen. They came over every Thursday and kept me kind of settled in the situation and kept up the bright side of everything. But when you go through all of that, and all those different surgeries and different infections, you really learn that football can be taken from you at any minute, so you learn to come out here and enjoy it every day."
Is there a next step?
"God bless, I just want to stay healthy," he said. "Honestly, I just want to play every single snap and just go out there and have fun and just love what I'm doing. Other than that, everything else, I don't even care about. I just want to go each snap at a time."
But he can take a snap off, maybe even two, can't he?
"I'm 26, baby. I'm doing every snap," he said. "I'm young, baby. I'm ready. I'm going to play this game eight more years, and I don't care what nobody says."
Yep. Pouncey's back.
A BOSS, BUT NOT A MASTER
Ryan Shazier has never sounded more like a boss on the field than he did yesterday, but the third-year inside linebacker and second-year signal-caller won't admit to being a master of this defense.
"I feel amazing, but it's never enough," Shazier said. "You probably feel like you're a great reporter, but you have to keep working on getting better and better, and that's the game of football. It's about transforming and evolving, and I have to constantly do that with my game and see what I have to do better and what I can do to make it easier for the guys around me."
Sounds a lot like James Farrior, who several years into his tenure in Pittsburgh said he still had more to learn about the defense.
"Yeah, you never can know too much," Shazier said. "I just try to continue to learn and continue to get better and continue to focus on what the coaches are telling us and what I need to watch and how to get better."
ON FEAR ISLAND
Mike Tomlin warned Ross Cockrell they were going to find out how tough he was right off the bat Thursday. And there was Cockrell -- a starting cornerback since the first day of spring -- standing eyeball-to-eyeball with Antonio Brown without any safety help.
The pass didn't go that way, but Cockrell said he appreciates the "iron sharpens iron" approach Tomlin is taking.
"They're trying to see how I react under the pressure," said Cockrell. "Obviously nothing compares to the lights of game day on Sunday. That's what we're working for, so I look forward to my matches with AB. He's the best in the league."
Claimed off waivers last Sept. 5, Cockrell made his Steelers debut two weeks later and intercepted Joe Flacco two games after that. He made his first start at San Diego, intercepted Derek Carr on Nov. 1 and recovered the key fumble late in the playoff win at Cincinnati.
No Steelers cornerback had more than his two interceptions or his 11 passes defensed. He started seven of the eight regular-season games in which the Steelers opened with three cornerbacks, and with Antwon Blake and Brandon Boykin gone Cockrell is competing for the Nos. 2 and 3 cornerback jobs with Senquez Golson, who remains out of spring practices with "a soft tissue issue."
Cockrell is noticeably stronger, but has no idea how much weight he's added this offseason.
"I really don't like stepping on the scale," said the six-footer who's listed at 191. "I've been working hard in the weight room. Whatever it looks like, that's just hard work with Coach Gie (Garrett Giemont). He's really helped me a lot."
Cockrell said his experience working against guys like Demaryius Thomas and A.J. Green made getting stronger a necessity "if I want to take on the role I want to take on this year."
But to get there, Cockrell knows he's going to have to pass daily tests against a much smaller receiver.
"Well, AB isn't the biggest receiver but he is very strong. Very strong," Cockrell said. "Yeah, he's quick. And just strong."
* Roethlisberger, Harrison, Golson, Le'Veon Bell and Bud Dupree were among the missing.
* Offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins signed his rookie contract. The fourth-round pick has been playing both the right and left sides with the second-team line.
* Tomlin normally enjoys spirited chatter among the players but even he had to stop and tell them to get on with their business "and just snap the ball" early in Thursday's session.
* On back-to-back snaps, 6-2, 200-pound cornerback Al-Hajj Shabazz out of West Chester poked a fumble out of the hands of a running back (that Shabazz picked up and returned for a touchdown) and intercepted a pass.