Kevin Gorman: Maurkice Pouncey receives MVP votes from Steelers |
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Kevin Gorman
Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey between plays against the Texans Monday, Dec. 25, 2017 at NRG Stadium in Houston Tx.

Maurkice Pouncey did his best to downplay the honor, but the Steelers center said it was special to learn he received MVP votes from teammates, including Ben Roethlisberger.

“To me, MVP is the most valuable player on this team, a guy you can’t do without. For me, it’s him,” the Steelers quarterback said Wednesday morning, before the vote was announced.

“I could probably pick any of the linemen, but he’s kind of the anchor of that group, a guy that means a lot to me, not just as a friend but for this team. Definitely deserves it, in my boat. I put a big 5-3 on my (ballot) and circled it.”

All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown was selected the Steelers MVP for the fourth time since 2011. Pouncey called it “well deserved” for Brown, for whom he voted.

The Steelers offensive linemen feel the same about Pouncey, a five-time Pro Bowl pick. The other four starters joined Big Ben in voting for Pouncey.

“It’s kind of like a joke, but not really,” right guard David DeCastro said. “Kind of wish he was captain, too. I know they only have one for each spot, but he means so much to this team with the way he carries himself. He’s special. He’s a leader.”

The votes show the respect in the Steelers locker room for Pouncey, especially on a team blessed with NFL MVP candidates in Brown, Roethlisberger and running back Le’Veon Bell.

Pouncey isn’t a skill player — unless, he jokes, you count snapping the ball as a skill — and no offensive lineman ever has won the Steelers MVP since the club started the award in 1969.

He doesn’t throw a pass, run with the ball or catch it, but his play allows the Steelers stars who do to shine.

Offensive linemen will tell you their unit is only as good as their center, and the Steelers had a pair of Hall of Famers in Mike Webster and Dermontti Dawson precede Pouncey. So this is an organization that places a premium on the position Pouncey plays.

“You don’t have to worry about making calls because he’s going to make them all,” DeCastro said. “You know exactly where you’re going, what you’re doing and how he’s going to snap it, which is great. You definitely notice it when he’s not in there. Not to take away from what he does, but he’s a special guy when he’s in there.”

Pouncey’s value to the Steelers could be on display Sunday if Mike Tomlin decides to sit him in the season finale against the Cleveland Browns for the second consecutive season. Pouncey doesn’t have a preference about playing.

“I think it’s just being positive, getting guys going every single day and overly caring about my job,” Pouncey said. “I’ll play in any game. Football is fun to me. I enjoy every moment of it.”

As do the Steelers, who are 10-10 in the 20 games Pouncey has missed with injuries in eight seasons, including the Super Bowl XLV loss to Green Bay.

Pouncey is regarded as the NFL’s best center almost universally — except the experts at Pro Football Focus — as much for consistency in making the right calls as for his blocking ability. We saw it last season, when he missed most of the loss at Baltimore with a finger injury.

“There’s always going to be a drop-off with how he calls and how familiar he is with the defenses out there,” left tackle Alejandro Villanueva said. “He understands what needs to be done and how he’s going to go about doing it. He’s very quick with his calls and making adjustments. But obviously, his physicality and athleticism cannot be replicated by any player in the NFL.”

That’s the most important part of what Pouncey brings to the Steelers. He’s their glue guy, a positive personality who keeps everyone in check who also serves as an outspoken voice on issues, important or otherwise.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise Pouncey was one of the Steelers who took shots at James Harrison for signing with the Patriots on Tuesday after his release from the Steelers.

“He’s a leader. He’s an emotional leader, and he’s a guy that really tries to get the best out of everybody. He’s a standard bearer,” Villanueva said.

“One of the most important things in an organization is culture, and he establishes that culture of perfection, of working hard and not taking the easy way out of anything. He’s truly the supervisor of the offensive line. Coach Munchak doesn’t have to say anything. If somebody is not playing up to the standard, he’s the first one to say something. That makes him great.”

That’s why Roethlisberger can vote for Pouncey, with whom he has a close friendship, without alienating Bell or Brown. Pouncey isn’t just his personal protector. He stands tall for the team.

Cornerback Joe Haden, Pouncey’s teammate at Florida, calls him “a rock.”

“The O-line is the strongest, closest group of this team since I’ve been here, and he’s the ringleader,” Haden said. “He’s one of the leaders of this team. You see how hard he works, and people follow him.”

They don’t just follow him. They vote for their center as team MVP, a sure sign about the Steelers’ pride in Pouncey.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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