PITTSBURGH — At first glance, it didn’t look like much, centre Maurkice Pouncey taking his spot in the middle of the offensive line and snapping the ball to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
But for Pouncey, more than eight months removed from tearing both the ACL and MCL in his right knee during the Steelers’ season opener last September, it was a big step.
Pouncey joined his teammates Tuesday for the first time after knee surgery cost him all but eight snaps of the 2013 season.
“Yeah, it was my first time doing live action,” Pouncey said. “I didn’t have any restrictions. It was pretty neat to dry-block some guys and finish on some plays, it was pretty awesome. So, it was great. There were no problems at all.”
The three-time Pro Bowler was expected to anchor a young offensive line last season. It never happened.
Minutes into the opener against Tennessee, Steelers guard David DeCastro dived into the back of Pouncey’s legs, derailing the direction of an entire season.
“I’ve never been hit like that,” Pouncey said, quickly adding that he hoped to leave all the injury talk in the past.
“I think it was more mental than anything, getting my confidence back. There’s only so much you can do to be ready, but then you have to go out and do it.”
Maybe it’s why Pouncey was even more fired up than usual as he took the field with his teammates. The sight of Pouncey’s No. 53 jersey in front of him was certainly a welcome one for Roethlisberger.
“It was great,” Roethlisberger said. “As a friend and a guy who has worked so hard to get back out here, it was fun to see him back in the pads.”
Second-year running back Le’Veon Bell missed the opening three games last season due to a foot injury during training camp, so the opening OTA practice was his first time running behind a Pouncey block.
“Maurkice is one of the more athletic centres in this league,” Bell said. “He can run a little better, so we’re going to try to get back to where we started last year, with more of an outside, zone running game. It’s something he can do, and he’s also a leader for the front guys. So we’re looking forward to having him back.”
Bell and bruising back LeGarrette Blount, acquired as a free agent during the off-season, are counting on Pouncey and an offensive line now under the guidance of former Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak.
“We’ve been building since last year,” Pouncey said.
“We finished the season pretty well, and a lot of the guys played great. Now, to get a new coach, a Hall of Fame player like that, it’s awesome. It’s going to be great for the group.”
Roethlisberger believes Pouncey’s return and the continued improvement of the offensive line could make the Steelers among the most potent offences in the league.
Pittsburgh ended 2013 on a 6-2 run while thriving in the no-huddle put together by co-ordinator Todd Haley and Roethlisberger.
“That’s a big part of running the no-huddle, because you get those guys working together,” Roethlisberger said.
“They’re comfortable. They’re familiar, and they’ve got another off-season of training and continuity and learning from each other. And, so, they’re what’s going to drive this team and this offence.”
NOTES: Inside linebacker Sean Spence, who missed the past two years after sustaining a gruesome left knee injury during the preseason in 2012, said he was thrilled to complete a practice. Spence tried to return at midseason last year, but sustained a hand injury. … Cornerback Ike Taylor and safety Troy Polamalu did not attend the voluntary workout while training elsewhere. … The Steelers signed two draft picks to four-year deals on Tuesday, offensive lineman Wesley Johnson (fifth round) and linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (sixth round). Zumwalt cannot attend OTAs until his class at UCLA has graduated.