The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season ended a few weeks earlier that they had planned it to, but now that their 2015 campaign has drawn to a conclusion, it’s time to wrap things up and take stock of where they are and how they got there. Part of that process involves holding player exit meetings at the conclusion of each season.
Of course, we’re not privy to the specifics that go on in each of these meetings between head coach and player, and whomever else might be involved in any particular discussion, but if we were conducting them, it might go something like this.
Player: Maurkice Pouncey
Experience: 6 Years
Veteran center Maurkice Pouncey is entering the 2016 listed as a seventh-year player, but he didn’t feel like a seventh-year player for good reason. Not only has he essentially missed two full seasons—playing just eight snaps before landing on injured reserve in 2013 and spending all of 2015 there after a preseason injury—he is also still just 26 as of the time of this writing, making him the second-youngest starter on the offensive line.
The Steelers were able to weather his absence in 2015 much better than they could in 2013, in part because his earlier injury was a greater shock as a friendly fire incident in a regular season game. The team was much more prepared to handle such an injury and adapt to it this time around, leading to a much more successful all around offensive line performance.
But there is no doubt that Pouncey returning to the lineup will be a great boon to the offensive line, assuming that he remains the player that he has been when healthy. It is worth noting that he played his best season returning from injury in 2014, during which he earned his fourth Pro Bowl nod and second first-team All-Pro recognition (fourth All-Pro altogether including second-team nods).
This was supposed to be the year that the offensive line finally crystalized and became the dominant, driving unit of the Steelers’ team after spending so many resources in it, and in many ways they still managed to do that without him, most notably with strong improvements from Marcus Gilbert and David DeCastro, the latter being named a first-team All-Pro himself for the first time.
The Steelers’ recent interest in a couple of free agent interior offensive linemen who have had prior starting experience have caused some to wonder if Pouncey’s rehabilitation from an Achilles injury that has wound up being more complicated than anticipated might be a motivating factor in that interest, but really, there is no way to say whether or not there is any credibility to that speculation.
Cody Wallace starting in his place in all 16 games, and while he was clearly the weakest link, and was often responsible for some negative plays for the offense, the team as a whole did well in Pouncey’s absence. Perhaps they are considering alternatives to Wallace, who is in the final year of his contract and will be turning 32 by the end of this season.