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Ex-Steelers center Fernando Velasco signs with Carolina Panthers

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He started 12 games for the Steelers in 2013, replacing injured Maurkice Pouncey, before tearing an Achilles in Week 14.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

A safety blanket has been removed.

Ex-Steelers center Fernando Velasco signed a free agent contract with the Carolina Panthers, eliminating the possibility of a return to Pittsburgh.

Velasco ruptured an Achilles during the team's Week 14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens - 12 games after the Steelers signed him to replace Maurkice Pouncey, who was lost in the team's Week 1 loss to Tennessee.

The Steelers suffered through one of their worst rushing seasons in the modern era, averaging 86.4 rushing yards a game - 28th in the NFL. They signed Pouncey to a six-year contract this offseason, looking to see the 25-year-old grow into the reputation long-standing Steelers centers have.

Velasco was viewed by fans as something of a knight in black and gold armor; a higher-level player who could fill in for Pouncey and keep the team on track. It was clearly a task larger than just one player. The Steelers faltered badly during a dismal 0-4 start to the year, and didn't ever fully recover. The offense picked up quite a bit down the stretch, and the best rushing performances came during that time.

Some of the credit for that can go to Velasco, but also, his replacement, Cody Wallace, who inked a three-year contract this offseason with the team.

The Steelers play at Carolina on Sunday Night Football in Week 3.