Getting Back to Basics

The Steelers wasted no time in getting the card to the commissioner's podium to announce their first-round selection of Florida center Maurkice Pouncey.

PITTSBURGH – As the seams appeared to be coming apart this week, the Pittsburgh Steelers went back to the fundamentals Thursday night and drafted a center, LaShawn Maurkice Pouncey, of Florida, with their first pick in the 2010 draft.

The Steelers have been blessed with a great tradition of centers, but it's been 69 years since they drafted one in the first round. It's expected that Pouncey will enjoy a better NFL career than did 1941 first-round pick Chet Gladchuk, who never played with the team.

Pouncey is the second consecutive Rimington Trophy winner (nation's best center) drafted by the Steelers, and, again, the team hopes Pouncey's stay with them is longer than that of the previous winner, A.Q. Shipley, who's now with the Philadelphia Eagles.

"I just want to live up to the tradition," said Pouncey.

"We not only liked what he did up front," said Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin, "but here's a guy who communicated at the line of scrimmage, and even in regards to safety rotations and so forth, this is a guy that's capable of drawing up all 22 and understanding rotations and stuff that affect protections. He's really a smart guy and mature beyond his years in that way."

Pouncey will open his pro career at right guard, but Tomlin would not say what he intends to do with current right guards Trai Essex and last year's third-round pick Kraig Urbik. It's likely that Essex will move back to second-team tackle and Pouncey will compete with Urbik for the starting guard job.

"As a young guy coming in," Tomlin said, "it's probably easier mentally to play guard because it's more receiving information as opposed to giving it."

Pouncey played right guard at Florida his freshman season, before moving to center his last two seasons. He played the pivot next to his identical twin brother Mike, who'll move to center this year for Florida.

Maurkice played next to his older brother (by a minute) at Lakeland High in Florida and they led the team to three state championships and one mythical national championship (USA Today). They of course also helped Florida win the national championship in 2008 and to a 13-1 record last season.

When Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert was asked if "all of that winning" was a factor in grading Pouncey, Colbert, with a broad smile, said, "It didn't hurt."

"That's all I've learned to do," said Pouncey. "I don't take losing very good."

Pouncey is a 6-4½, 304-pounder who posted a below-average score of 14 on the Wonderlic intelligence test, but he impressed the Steelers with his on-field intelligence.

"Coach (Sean) Kugler had him on the board," said Colbert, "and Coach Tomlin and I sat back and watched and were very impressed at the way he could recall what he was taught and give it back to Coach Kugler almost flawlessly. And Florida will talk and did talk very highly of his intelligence and his ability to communicate.

"It was clear watching him work with his peers in the weight room and on the field that he was a secondary leader because they really have a great team down there and of course Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes were leaders, but this kid stood out that he was one of the guys for sure."

Tomlin also called Pouncey "a finisher" who not only proved his toughness in the SEC against star nose tackles such as Terrence Cody and Dan Williams, but Pouncey proved it in the Sugar Bowl by playing against Cincinnati after spending a few days in the hospital that week with kidney stones. He suited up and recorded seven knockdowns without giving up a tackle and was graded at 94 percent for blocking consistency.

Pouncey was only the seventh true freshman to start a season opener at Florida, and as a right guard went on to make the Freshman All-America first team as named by College Football News. In 2008, as Florida's center, he was named the Sophomore All-America first team by the same outlet.

Last year, Pouncey earned All-America honors after not allowing any sacks or pressures in 919 offensive snaps.

A fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and linebacker Derrick Brooks as a child, Pouncey said he "fell in love" with the Steelers after they interviewed him at the combine.

"It feels great man. I wanted this from day one," he said. I'm so happy to be a Pittsburgh Steeler."

Even though he won't turn 21 until July 24, Pouncey expects to become a part of the Steelers' starting lineup his first season.

"That's my plan," he said.

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