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Steve McLendon pushed, literally and figuratively, by Maurkice Pouncey

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In a division of outstanding interior defensive linemen, nose tackle Steve McLendon and center Maurkice Pouncey prepare for what looks to be some outstanding competition within the AFC North by pushing each other in training camp.

Jared Wickerham

Iron sharpens iron. Competition makes players better.

In a division with outstanding defensive tackles - Cincinnati's Geno Atkins, Baltimore's Haloti Ngata and Cleveland's Phil Taylor - the importance of a team's center has reached critical mass in the AFC North.

The Steelers benefit with the ability and experience of Maurkice Pouncey on game day. But perhaps Pouncey's real long-term value is in preparing NT Steve McLendon for what awaits in his first year as a starter.

Tribune Review reporter Ralph N. Paulk discusses the Steelers' depth at nose tackle in a feature in Saturday's edition, highlighting the fact McLendon goes against Pouncey each day in practice.

"I'm going against one of the best centers in the league," McLendon said. "It's a constant battle between me and Pouncey. We are making each other better every day."

It's a wonder who will benefit more from elevated practice competition; Pouncey, who faces the beasts each team has, or McLendon, who lacks the experience but also doesn't have to face the same level of competition Pouncey does (although Cleveland's Alex Mack is one of the best centers in the game).

It's an interesting comparison, as well. While McLendon can't be mentioned in the same breath as Atkins - arguably the best interior defensive lineman in football - or Ngata - when healthy, a more-than-viable comparable to Atkins - constant full-bore repetition against Pouncey will make him a better player. Same for Pouncey, who will get plenty of quickness and athleticism from each divisional opponents' skilled anchor lineman.

If they are going to rise above their divisional competition, they'll have to beat each other first. And that will give them confidence against an outstanding division.

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