Front and center: Pouncey set for Steelers’ leadership role

A tattoo across Maurkice Pouncey’s chest reads 1989, the year the all-pro center was born.

Despite his age, when the Steelers begin the 2013 season, Pouncey will likely have the most career starts under his belt of anyone on Pittsburgh’s offensive line.

“I definitely will be taking on a leadership role,” said Pouncey, who was at Peoples Natural Gas Field Friday to throw out the first pitch of the Curve game and sign autographs. “I have been waiting for that for awhile now. I’ve been doing it on the field, but now I’ll have to do it a little more in the locker room since some of our older guys are gone.”

Other than 27-year-old Ramon Foster, who has 42 career starts, no one on Pittsburgh’s roster of offensive linemen has more than six starts, and no one is older than 24.

The 23-year-old Pouncey has made 45 career starts over his first three seasons and has been selected to three Pro Bowls.

“We all made a promise to ourselves that we’re going to start Monday and we’re going to work out together and build our chemistry better,” Pouncey said.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 30 times last season and missed three games due to injury.

“This year we’ve got to do a lot better job protecting Ben [Roethlisberger],” Pouncey said. “He was banged up a little bit last year, and I think that was due to some of the offensive line play.

“I think all our guys have it set in our minds that we have to step up a little bit more and help out our quarterback.”

Pouncey’s offensive line coach, Sean Kugler, who joined the Steelers along with Pouncey in 2010, left Pittsburgh after last season to become the UTEP head coach.

Jack Bicknell Jr. will replace Kugler this season.

“[Kugler] was a great coach,” Pouncey said. “I’m going to miss that guy, but he had a great opportunity with UTEP, and hopefully those guys start winning and he turns that program around.”

As always, when a Steelers or Penguins player visits Altoona, a huge line of fans turned out to get Pouncey’s autograph.

Several wore Pouncey jerseys and expressed excitement about seeing the All-Pro but also some concern about the Steelers’ upcoming season.

“I’ve been a huge Steelers fan my whole life, and I’m a former center myself,” Tyrone native Brock Anders said. “It’s awesome to come see Maurkice Pouncey and watch some baseball while I’m doing it.

“I’d say I’m a little concerned about the season, but it’s the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Rooneys know how to get things done. They’ll get the right players in their organization.”

Pouncey acknowledged the fans’ concerns but stressed patience.

“I think we’ll be pretty good, and we just have to stay positive,” Pouncey said. “I think the Rooneys and [Steelers GM] Kevin Colbert always do a good job at drafting guys. They always bring good guys in, so we’ll see how things turn out.”

The Steelers made the Super Bowl in Pouncey’s first season but were eliminated in the first round during his second year and missed the playoffs last season. Pouncey was unable to play in the 2010 Super Bowl due to an injury.

“I think about it all the time,” Pouncey said. “But you know the Pittsburgh Steelers will be back again. I’ll tell you one thing. Before I’m done, I’m winning a Super Bowl ring.”

Though winning a ring is still on his to-do list, Pouncey can cross off throwing a good first pitch at a Curve game.

“It was right up there [with the best first pitches],” Curve general manager Rob Egan said. “If there was one better, I can’t remember it. He threw a strike. Some of his teammates have bounced them, and we told him about that. We told him to keep it high, and he did.”

Pouncey was his worst critic.

“I was nervous walking up,” Pouncey said. “I wish I would have just let it fly and put more torque behind it. I think some of the guys in the ballpark out there were laughing at me.”

Despite Pouncey’s claims of laughter, the most obvious sight in the ballpark were the smiles and excitement of fans standing in line to see their favorite Steeler. The Curve drew 3,020 fans on Friday, most of whom were in line at some point in time.

“We’ve been very fortunate, and it starts with the fan support,” Egan said. “They have shown us with their attendance over the years. Our sponsors have helped us over the years, and we’ve been lucky on both ends.”