PITTSBURGH -- Maurkice Pouncey is in his fifth NFL season, but the Pittsburgh Steelers starting center feels like a rookie all over again.
Pouncey, who missed all but one offensive possession last season after a knee injury in the opener, is more than ready to answer the bell.
"For me, it is because I love football,'' Pouncey said Wednesday. "So, it was terrible for me, man. And I'm just happy to be back. I try my best to do my part and if it works out and the guys like it, I'll keep doing what I've been doing. And I feel great right now. I feel young again. I'm still young, but I feel great.''
Ankle problems took three entire games from Pouncey at the end of his second and third NFL seasons, but nothing compared to missing all of 2013. It was tough on Pouncey and even tougher for the Steelers to play an entire season without their leader on the offensive line.
"Whew! That was terrible,'' Pouncey said. "I can't imagine what it was like for the guys who were playing, because when you lose games like that -- four in a row -- everything's different at work. It's tough to be there, and nobody has a smile on their face.''
Sundays were quite boring for Pouncey, who couldn't do anything except rehab his knee and work hard to get back. And he watched every Steelers game, attending home games and catching the others on television.
"Hell yes, I watched,'' Pouncey said. "Come on, now, I wasn't out partying. I watched them all, and some games were really hard to watch. (And) I couldn't travel, because of the swelling, at first.
"Coach Tomlin just thought it was in my best interest to leave me here. ... Fortunately, it got a lot better, and the boys went out there and played really well. But I'm ready to go now, and I can't wait to get out there.''
Left guard Ramon Foster believes this has been noticeable in Pouncey. Even during walk-throughs, Pouncey has an edge. He works up a sweat and is on top of his game, even though the workout is more like a spring practice than anything.
"Being out of football for a year, he told me you never really know how much you'd miss it until you don't have it,'' Foster said. "And he's definitely displayed that football is very important to him. The contract came along with that, but it's more than that with Pouncey. It came before that."
"He's said that you never know what you have until it's gone, and it was gone for a year for him. (But) he hasn't missed a beat at all. I think he was a little nervous in OTAs and early in camp and maybe a little rusty, but he's right on point with the way he moves and what he does.''
Right guard David DeCastro knows all too well what it's like to miss an entire season, because the third-year player missed his entire rookie season after suffering a knee injury in the preseason.
"I can tell you that there's nothing to compare,'' DeCastro said. "You need to work on your game and rehab, and you're kind of remote from the team. But, yet, you want to keep contact with the guys, even though you can't play and can't contribute.''
Now that the Steelers offensive line is healthy again, from left tackle to the right -- with Pouncey as the anchor in the middle -- DeCastro believes the sky's the limit for the club's O-line.
"Pouncey's as good as ever, maybe better, because he's in great shape and really focused this year,'' DeCastro said. "He's always been focused but, once you miss a year, you appreciate things even more, I think, and Maurkice definitely is appreciative of what he has here. And we appreciate him."
"So, it's great to have him back in the middle of our O-line, and it's great to have all of us working so well together. I think we can be really good on the O-line this year, as long as we all stay healthy, but we're also building some depth. So, I think we have a lot of potential with this group.''
And with Pouncey leading the way, the Steelers offense will be the beneficiary.
Notes: WR Martavis Bryant (shoulder) and WR Lance Moore (groin) are the only Steelers who did not practice Wednesday. ... CB Brice McCain (groin) was limited, while TE Matt Spaeth (hamstring), ILB Sean Spence (knee) and LS Greg Warren (knee) were all full participants. ... DT Desmond Bryant (wrist) and OG Paul McQuistan (ankle) did not practice for the Browns, while DE John Hughes (hamstring) was limited.