Starks offers perspective on Pouncey

Mike Prisuta soaked in Max Starks's wisdom in regard to rookie Maurkice Pouncey becoming the starting center. And then he wondered if he'd heard it all before.

LATROBE -- If anyone would be willing to quickly anoint Maurkice Pouncey as the Steelers' next big thing up front, you would think it would be Max Starks.

Pouncey is a Florida Gator. And Starks is as "Go Gators" as it gets. But Starks also remembers winning a Super Bowl with Justin Hartwig at center. And Starks is a huge believer in experience and trust as musts along the offensive line.

He made it clear on Tuesday that while he appreciates Pouncey's personality, pedigree and potential, Starks needs to see a lot more from the No. 1 pick before getting too excited too quickly.

While doing so Starks touched on a number of subjects. His answers turned just another day at St. Vincent College into a day of reflection. Consider Starks' take on:

Why he wouldn't expect a fellow Florida Gator to step right in and thrive: "You would naturally want to say that. I have a lot of faith in him because I know what program he came from, so I know the intelligence factor is there. But once again, college alumni aside, I have to think about the benefit of the Pittsburgh Steelers over alumni ties.

"He has the makings and he has the ability and I want to see him play. But once again I have to build that trust with him just like the other three guys on the offensive line have to build their trust with him. And he has to earn it."

On how important Starks perceives football to be to Pouncey: "I know he loves this game and I know he wants to be the best at whatever he does and I can't fault him for that; I feel the same way. And he's definitely putting in the proper work in the right places. But offensive line is totally different from college to pros and it takes that work just to be at the standard or the par. And we want to be above that. We want to be a cut above that and it takes time."

On how critical an element Starks perceives experience to be for an offensive lineman in general and a center in particular: "Experience is one of the biggest key factors in the National Football League that people don't account for. ‘Oh, all this great athletic ability. Oh, he's so quick. Oh, he's so strong. Oh, he's so fast.' But the reason why guys don't make it is because they don't have the mental toughness. And I think mental toughness is only gained over time, through experiences, through adversity, and he hasn't really had to experience those things yet.

"You have to see how a guy responds to adversity to know his true strength and his true toughness. I think he has the aggression. He has the intelligence. He has the quicks. He has the smarts. It's time to see how he functions when you're fatigued. When you're in that fourth-quarter drive, can you make those decisions?

"At center you have to always be sharp no matter how fatigued you are. I like to think I'm good, but in the fourth quarter you get fatigued, you don't start thinking of things as quick. And yet I have to rely on the center to give me a call. And the center has to always be right. He can't be wrong."

On Pouncey's seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm: "That's just the way he is. That's the way he's wired. That's how Florida boys are. The program breeds that sense of competition. It's a standard and it's a mindset. You bring in the best, you feel, at high school, but once they're there, they understand why you're there.

"It's not about, ‘Hey, this is a great college environment to have great memories.' It's for you to create these memories and this is how we create those memories."

On Steelers veterans discussing individual and collective goals among themselves and/or with rookies: "You just assume everybody's on the same page. When you have this collection of different and diverse individuals that come together you know it's for one common goal, and that's to win championships and be successful. It doesn't really have to be said. It's understood by your work ethic and your practice. Your habits are going to show your dedication and where your mind is."

On why the Steelers play the game and how they demand that it be played: "There are by-products of being at this level, but the most important thing, the reason why you're here, is to compete and be the best at what you do. That's the standard and that's all it is. Everything else, when you're not at football, we don't really care what you're doing. Just as long as when you show up you clock in and you're locked in and you're ready to roll and you're ready to be the best. That's what we care about."

Starks's yellow caution flag is understandable given his perspective on how tough it is for rookies to transition into the NFL and his recent recollections of winning a Super Bowl with Hartwig on "Popsicle sticks and bandages."

Still, the opinions he expressed inspired reminders of Alan Faneca biting a reporter's head off for asking if Faneca was excited about Ben Roethlisberger having to start three games into the 2004 season.

We know how that turned out, just as we know now that Pouncey's time -- ahead of schedule or otherwise -- has arrived.

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