As Pittsburgh Steelers training camp is set to begin, Behind the Steel Curtain takes a look at each position battle and how players at those positions are expected to perform.
PITTSBURGH -- Maurkice Pouncey is among the NFL's best centers, even though he is coming off major knee surgery that cost him all but one-half of the opening game last season. Pouncey was poised to have a big season in 2013, and there is no reason to believe that Pouncey won't pick up where he left off.
The 6-foot-4, now 304-pound Pouncey is a bulldozer. He's smart, strong and athletic, and he's not injury prone despite what some might think. The ankle that bothered him during his initial NFL seasons is not a problem anymore, and at 24 years old he's young enough to bounce back from the knee injury. Pouncey worked hard to rehabilitate the knee and looked pretty good in the spring. A big season is expected from him.
The Steelers other centers aren't as notable. Sure, Fernando Velasco was a surprise success after replacing Pouncey last season, but he suffered an Achilles injury late last season and was not re-signed by the Steelers. So, the club has to go with several other players as possible backups to Pouncey.
Cody Wallace is listed as an offensive lineman on the roster, but he was re-signed for three years and $3.48 million. Wallace was with several different teams before the Steelers secured his talents in 2013. He ended up playing in nine games and starting the final four.
Undrafted free-agent rookie Chris Elkins from Youngstown State, who played scholastically for Beaver Falls, Pa. High School, just 30 miles from Pittsburgh, also is in the running for a backup role, along with second-year player David Snow from Texas.
Snow was signed during last season and also doubles as an offensive guard. So, his position flexibility has him ticketed for a backup role at all three interior spots. This makes him valuable, but he has no experience. Snow played no games for the Steelers last season and just five with two starts for the Buffalo Bills as an NFL rookie in 2012.
The only other possibility at center is Kelvin Beachum, a third-year player who is the incumbent starting left offensive tackle. Beachum was selected in the seventh round in 2012 to be an offensive guard, but he has 17 starts at tackle in 22 career games and helped stabilize the offensive line after Pouncey's injury last fall and Mike Adams' disappointing performance.
However, Beachum has not been an effective center in practice, and the only reason he would play there is if every other option is exhausted there. Beachum can play every offensive line position, though, and is extremely valuable to the Steelers no matter where he plays. Beachum's work ethic and athleticism has made him a success so far.