While the transition from center to right guard doesn't figure to be easy for Pittsburgh first-rounder Maurkice Pouncey, the difficulty might be mitigated by the fact that the Steelers' youngster is working with a man who has presided over such a conversion in the recent past.
Steelers first-year offensive line coach Sean Kugler held the same position with the Buffalo Bills last season, when first-round choice Eric Wood was switched from center to right guard. The 28th choice in the first round in 2009, Wood started the first 10 games of the season at right guard until his year was ended by a broken lower left leg. Wood, who started 49 straight games at center for Louisville in college, didn't exactly make a seamless transition to guard (unofficially he surrendered three sacks), but played well for the most part before the injury.
"It's a tough transition," Kugler said of moving from center to guard. "Playing at center, your base is more balanced, more equally distributed, and at guard you're probably leaning a bit more. And there are, obviously, some technique things you've got to get accustomed to. The footwork is different and, at guard, obviously, you're not using a hand to snap the ball like at center."
Kugler cited the blocking adjustment calls as one area of difference, and also noted that, in a league where the 3-4 front has become increasingly predominant, the center frequently has a defensive lineman directly across from him. There is, he said, probably a little more room to operate at guard.
"At center," Kugler said, "you're usually working in close quarters."
Pouncey and Wood, according to Kugler, have similar makeups and temperaments.
Both are very bright, understand the game, have excellent strength, project to be able to play both interior positions, and want to be good. Like Pouncey, Wood's long-term future is at center, but five-year veteran Geoff Hangartner played well there for the Bills last season and started every game.
Although Wood had played so long at center in college, Buffalo officials were confident that he could switch to guard. Pittsburgh brass is just as certain that Pouncey -- the team's first interior lineman selected in the first round since guard Kendall Simmons in 2002 -- can make the same move.
Of course, as Kugler noted, some old habits are hard to break. There are times when muscle memory overrides even the best intentions. Case in point: The first several times Wood lined up at guard, his hand would come up on the snap, as if he were centering the ball to the quarterback. So far, Pouncey has not reverted to simulating the snap motion when aligned at right guard.