There are perhaps few sources more qualified to speak about offensive line play in the world than Mike Munchak, who excelled both as a player and as a coach. A Hall of Fame guard and one of the most respected offensive line coaches in all of football, the Scranton native has spent a life largely dedicated to the game, one he’s not prepared yet to give up at the age of 62.
Munchak spent his entire career playing for the Houston Oilers, which later became the Tennessee Titans, where he also forged his reputation as an excellent offensive line coach, as well, yet he arguably took it to yet another level during his five-year tenure with the Pittsburgh Steelers between 2014-2018.
Recently appearing on 93.7 The Fan with Ron Cook and Joe Starkey, Munchak talked about the offensive line in general, and why the center position is the most difficult to play—and why he was so blessed to have Maurkice Pouncey.
“There’s so much to that position because of the relationship with the quarterback, and I think that’s why it was so special in Pittsburgh”, he said. “Pouncey and Ben [Roethlisberger] had such a really great relationship throughout that time”.
Pouncey was a first-round draft pick in 2010, and made the All-Pro List that year. He would go on to make at least the Pro Bowl in every year of his career in which he was healthy before retiring after the 2020 season. He already had a reputation as being one of the best centers in the game by the time Munchak was hired in 2014.
“When I got to Pittsburgh, I knew who the center was when I came in the door. I knew that, man, we had something special, because he was so special”, he said of the man who made up the heart of his unit. David DeCastro would blossom into a Pro Bowler under his coaching soon after, following by Alejandro Villanueva, whom he molded from a practice squad defensive-end-to-tackle convert. But for him, both generally and in Pittsburgh, it starts in the middle.
“You’re putting so much on the center, mentally, to take charge. He has so many responsibilities other than just blocking his guys”, Munchak said of the demands of playing the center position. “The other positions can pretty much just hone into the individual player that they have to block or what technique to use, whereas the center has a lot more going on. You put a lot more on him, especially a guy like Pouncey who can handle it both mentally and physically”.
That’s one of the reasons a number of Steelers fans remain frustrated that the team passed over Creed Humphrey in the second round last year, even though their second-round pick ended up being a pretty good tight end with a lot of potential in Pat Freiermuth.
They did draft Kendrick Green one round later, but they seem to have already replaced him, or at least given themselves options, signing Mason Cole in free agency. James Daniels, their big free-agent signing, is also a candidate to play center. But none of them are Maurkice Pouncey. The Steelers probably won’t have another like him for a while, even for a franchise with a couple of centers already in the Hall of Fame.