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Tuesday, May 27, 2014
It's time for Mike Pouncey to grow up, lead

By James Walker



DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey was his usual energized self Tuesday during organized team activities.

Pouncey mentored younger offensive linemen, such as rookies Ja'Wuan James and Billy Turner. He kept the entire line in sync and led every drill. Pouncey showed up in tremendous shape and looks like he could play a game this Sunday.

Miami's Pro Bowl center continues to do everything right on the field and looks the part of a franchise building block. But Pouncey's baffling decisions off the field -- big and small -- have given the Dolphins reason to pause.

For starters, there was Pouncey's involvement in Miami's high-profile bullying scandal; he was named in the NFL-sanctioned Ted Wells report as participating in the harassment of former teammate Jonathan Martin and others. This has put Pouncey's playing status for Week 1 in limbo as the NFL must decide on a suspension. There also were smaller transgressions, such as his "Free [Aaron] Hernandez" hat and a tweet about rookie hazing after James was drafted.

Pouncey is now at a crossroads entering his fourth season. The time is now for the 24-year-old center to grow up and become a leader within the Dolphins' locker room.

"I would hope that anybody else wouldn't doubt that," Pouncey said of his leadership. "The work ethic I put in, the way these guys on this football team look at me, they all know I'm the leader they want me to be. So my main focus is to be the best leader I can be."

Maturity and leadership are the unanswered questions remaining in the Pouncey puzzle. The Dolphins know what kind of player he is: The durable Pouncey is one of the top centers in the NFL and is just entering the prime of his career.

"One thing that's without question about Mike Pouncey is he wants to be a great football player," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. "He wants to make a valuable contribution to the Miami Dolphins."

However, Pouncey most likely cost himself money this offseason after a roller-coaster 2013. He reached his first Pro Bowl and outperformed his rookie contract. But missteps off the field prevented Miami from offering a multiyear extension. Instead, the Dolphins picked up Pouncey's fifth-year option and will keep him under contract through 2015.

The Dolphins want Pouncey to be one of the faces of the team and represent the franchise in a positive light. Then -- and only then -- would it be wise for Miami to invest in Pouncey long term.

As last year proved, Miami certainly needs leadership in its locker room. The Dolphins are already taking steps to push Pouncey in that direction. When the team signed Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert in March, Pouncey joined Philbin, quarterback Ryan Tannehill and general manager Dennis Hickey for Albert's welcome-to-Miami dinner. New Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said Tuesday that he had an in-depth talk with Pouncey this offseason about leading the offense, and so far he is fulfilling all those requirements.

Being on the field for all 16 games is one important step for Pouncey. The Dolphins, who could have as many as four new starters on the offensive line, are unsure if Pouncey will be available when the season kicks off. The NFL has mandated that Pouncey take psychological testing before returning to the field, which he disagrees with. But it's in his best interest to follow through on NFL protocols between now and September.

"I don't have any thought on it," said Pouncey, who said he doesn't want to be a distraction. "That's not up to me right now. I'm just waiting to hear."

Last year, Pouncey was voted as a team captain and member of the Dolphins' leadership council -- decisions that seemed laughable once details of the bullying scandal emerged.

But Pouncey will get another chance to lead. Miami's coaching staff is leaning heavily on him to provide a positive example, and his teammates respect the work he has put in on the field.

What Pouncey does with this second opportunity will have a strong bearing on his long-term future with the Dolphins.