By now chances are that you’ve already read the story about Pittsburgh Steelers veteran offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert taking the rookie linemen out to dinner and footing the bill for what damage the 300-plus-pounders could do.
Not that they don’t have the money to afford treating a host of teammates to a lavish dinner a time or two, after all, considering that both have recently signed multi-year contracts that will pay them tens of millions over the next several years.
It was a nice token of camaraderie, a demonstration of unity no matter how you got here or how long you’ve been around, to be sure. Two veteran linemen of their stature in the league are certainly not beholden to looking out for a bunch of undrafted free agents, some of whom may not even make it to training camp.
The real story, I think, however, is Pouncey here, and not that it’s a story that is new to the offseason rotation of narratives—namely, his continued emergence as a leader. Pouncey is entering his sixth season, returning from a knee injury last year to turn in an All-Pro campaign and reestablishing himself both with his teammates and around the league.
But the heart of this story is about the broader implications of what this means for the Steelers’ offensive line. The fact of that matter is that they have not been in this position for a long time. They have not even had a player of Pouncey’s stature gracing the line, with his longevity and pedigree, on the line since Alan Faneca left in free agency following the 2007 season.
Finally, the group has a legitimate leader—not just a player who has the qualities of a leader, but also the on-field resume to back it up. Pouncey is the player that the rest of the group must look up to and rally around. They must feed off of him and push themselves to get better, to make the entire group better.
It’s fair to say that Pouncey ascendance to this stature was delayed with the ACL tear that he suffered early in the season opener in 2013. It was then, already, that he was emerging as a leader, despite his young age, but he was forced to sit out that season, and then had to reestablish himself the following season.
Now he is back on the top of his game, having answered all of the questions after putting together arguably the best season of his career. And now it’s time for him to claim what’s his: the offensive line group.
He said it himself recently, telling Teresa Varley for the team’s website that “I just think it’s my time to start looking after the young guys, time to breed them”. You already see the effect that he has had on this young group.
Rookie lineman B.J. Finney talked to Varley about Pouncey’s presence, saying that “it means everything to have that leadership” and explaining how having that figure in the room can help a player take his game to the next level.
It’s good that we see Pouncey already having that effect on the young rookies just by being who he is as an established All-Pro. It’s time for the rest of the starting offensive line to fall in line and let the sixth-year center lead them where he may.