The Pittsburgh Steelers recently posted a website conducted with left tackle Alejandro Villanueva conducted by Teresa Varley, which I touched on yesterday in an article highlighting his comments about how the competition for the starting job affected his confidence, and how it took the course of the season for him to cement himself into that position.
That was just a portion of the interview, however, and I wanted to talk about the rest of it as well, not simply because Villanueva has proven to be such a quotable and well-spoken player, but also because it is an important topic about the dynamics of the offensive line room and the group as a whole.
The former Army Ranger called upon his previous experiences in the interview to draw comparisons to his current profession. He likened offensive line coach Mike Munchak to a platoon leader, and All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey to the platoon sergeant.
“Coach Munchak can say how to block a play, your responsibilities and assignment. He is going to say it in a very soft voice and he is going to say it once”, Villanueva said. “He is going spend all of the time teaching you how to do it, but it’s going to be Pouncey who makes sure you get it done and yelling at you if you mess it up. It’s a very similar dynamic to the military and I think that’s why it’s so effective”.
Pouncey, the Steelers’ 2010 first-round draft selection, has gone to the Pro Bowl in the five of his seven seasons in which he has been healthy and played more than eight snaps. He is not only the best player on the unit, however, he is also the clear and unquestioned leader, the energetic and vocal presence of the group around whom the rest rallies itself.
Villanueva was in just his first season in 2015 when he was called upon to start the majority of the season due to injury. That just so happened to be one of the two seasons that Pouncey spent in the background after he suffered a fractured fibula.
While he typically remains rather involved during injuries, that was likely not the case to the extent that it would ordinarily have been last year because his recovery process was a trying and complicated one due to a number of infections that resulted in more than half a dozen total procedures.
So it was really only last season that Villanueva finally got the opportunity to meaningfully work with Pouncey together on the field, and the novice starter certainly noticed the pronounced difference that such an important player makes when he is present.
“It’s almost like in the French Revolution”, he said of Pouncey, “the guy carrying the flag. That is what Pouncey is like. He is an inspiring, intense player that cares about winning. It’s contagious. I am influenced by his desire to win and be better”.
That is the sort if intangible quality that you simply cannot teach, nor can you really plan for to produce. It is an organic production from the makeup of the team. Pouncey hosts a weekly dinner gathering for the offensive line that Villanueva and the whole group relishes, which he described as “a hallmark”.