This is the next in a series that previews every position on offense and defense with training camp approaching. Our seventh look is at center.
Returning starter: Maurkice Pouncey. The three-time Pro Bowler returns after missing all but eight snaps last season because of a torn ACL. Pouncey looked terrific during offseason practices, and the Steelers have already rewarded him with a five-year contract extension.
Key loss: Fernando Velasco. He would have gotten a lot of votes for most unsung Steelers player last season after taking over for the injured Pouncey in the second game of the season. Velasco started 11 games at center before rupturing his Achilles tendon. The shame of that injury is Velasco would have likely parlayed his work with the Steelers into a multi-year contract and starting job elsewhere. He remains unsigned as he works his way back from the injury.
On the bubble: David Snow. The Texas product signed with the Steelers early last December to provide depth, but he didn’t dress in any of their last four games. Snow has to beat out Cody Wallace, who appears to be pretty entrenched as Pouncey’s primary backup who can also play guard.
By the numbers: Pouncey played in 45 of 48 regular-season games from 2010-12, starting all of them, before missing most of last season with a knee injury.
Did you know? Wallace is with his sixth NFL organization. A fourth-round pick by the 49ers in 2008, Wallace had never started an NFL game before taking over at center for the final four contests in 2013 and helping the Steelers average 115.3 rushing yards.
Quotable: “These guys really rally around him. They really are encouraged by watching the way he worked out after being hurt in the opener. How he’s come back and all the time he’s put in this building to get the chance to be part of these workouts again, I’m really excited where he’s at, and I’m really excited as a line coach when you know you have a guy like him locked up for a long term.” – offensive line coach Mike Munchak on Pouncey.
Outlook: Velasco and Wallace did an admirable job of holding down the position last season, but Pouncey is one of the top centers in the NFL when healthy. His return should provide a big boost to a unit that allowed just seven sacks in the Steelers' final seven games in 2013 and came together in the second half of the season. Pouncey still has growth potential and should only get better while working with Munchak.