Amidst much needed release of aging veterans, top-heavy contracts and the cap-casualties of free agent departures, the Pittsburgh Steelers must look to fill a leadership vacuum with key losses to the likes of Hines Ward, James Farrior, Aaron Smith and James Harrison. That’s a near Hall of Fame cast of a decade’s worth of guidance, leadership that has led to Lombardi’s. With those losses a reality, to whom do the Steelers turn in filling their leadership vacuum?
While much has been made about an absence of leadership presence and qualities that led to a highly unfamiliar, luke-warm 8-8 season in 2012, the Steelers, as always, will look inside out for a renewal in their leadership. Starting front and center on the inside with Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh has the ideal candidate. Not only is Pouncey the most consistent, and experienced, offensive lineman the Steelers have (excluding the yeoman’s work of Ramon Foster), he’s also the most accomplished. Maurkice has been the crown jewel of Kevin Colbert’s last 5 NFL Draft classes, and has positioned himself not only at the center of Steelers on-field leadership since his selection at #18 in 2010, but appears to be next in a platinum line of steely Pittsburgh centers.
A model of consistency, the position of Center in Steel Town is a parallel barometer as much as that of Pittsburgh’s Head Coaches and the Organization itself. From 1964-2006, the Steelers have lined up with just four starting centers. Ray Mansfield took Center for Pittsburgh’s first two Super Bowls, Mike Webster already sports a bust as a Hall of Fame inductee, finalist for induction Dermonti Dawson will undoubtedly join him in Canton and Webster, Dawson and Jeff Hartings all three were perennial Pro Bowlers. The position of Center in Pittsburgh has been stamped annually as “League’s Best”. Pouncey fits the Steelers “mold in the middle” perfectly.
During training camp of his Rookie season, Maurkice immediately and impressively established himself as Pittsburgh’s starting Center. The tagline to such an achievement is his selection as the ultimate protector to our franchise Quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. Almost immediately, Pouncey developed into one of the best in the league at his position, and has remained there ever since. The youth movement on the Steelers offensive line is clearly, undoubtedly led by the 23-year-old Pouncey; no one on Pittsburgh’s current roster of offensive linemen has more starts than Maurkice, and no one is older than 25. With 45 career starts over his first three seasons and three Pro Bowl selections, the future of Pittsburgh is being built from its Center.
Pouncey’s ceaseless tenacity is the kind of leadership long enculturated in Pittsburgh by Hines Ward, and has helped endear him to teammates and Steeler Nation alike for his nasty demeanor on the field. As the only Steeler chosen to The Associated Press All-Pro team from an 8-8 performance, Maurkice Pouncey continues his own definition of performance, production and maturity. A player that has been an All-Pro performer each and every season of his young career, the center of attention for leadership in Pittsburgh is clearly Pouncey.
The Steelers have subtracted out over a decade’s worth of known, tried and true, trusted leadership and added back a transition to newer ones. Most of Steeler Nation has recognized this would be a difficult transition that we have been very unaccustomed to, and it has been. With the transition from on-field leadership by example to locker room direction by stature, Pouncey has developed into a fiery leader for a traditional powerhouse, at its traditional core position: from the Center. This is exactly the type of player the voracious Steelers want to get behind to get back to Pittsburgh-style physicality. As the Steelers return to their old school, winning ways, they will do it in their old school way of leadership from the inside out, starting at Center with Maurkice Pouncey.