Velasco fills hole in middle of offensive line

PITTSBURGH -- The week or so he spent waiting for a call from an NFL team allowed Fernando Velasco to watch his younger brother play a game at Georgia Southern as well as indulge his passion for golf.

“I fell in love with it,” Velasco said of golf. “This offseason I’m going to take a few more lessons and really get into it. I’m still learning.”

If Velasco picks up things as quickly in golf as he does in football, then he might be shooting numbers associated with offensive linemen in no time.

The seamless transition Velasco made from street free agent to starting center for the Pittsburgh Steelers is a major reason why the offensive line is trending upward after a rough start to the season.

Velasco has started all five games since Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey went down with a season-ending injury, and he has played well enough that it is hard to believe it hasn’t been much more than a month since he signed with the Steelers and learned the playbook in a week.

“It definitely seems like a long, long time ago,” Velasco said of the week that doubled as a cramming session for the fourth-year veteran. “Everything happened so fast. I won’t give myself any credit. It’s just the guys around me who really made me feel more comfortable. They helped me more than people realize. Nothing is easy, but they really made the transition easier.”

Velasco helped himself, too, by picking up a new offense faster than anyone could have expected.

“He’s done amazing,” right guard David DeCastro said. “It’s a credit to him and his intelligence.”

The Steelers couldn’t have done any better after the loss of Pouncey left a gaping hole in the offensive line.

Velasco started 13 games at center last season in Tennessee, but the 6-4, 312-pounder became expendable after the Titans signed free agent Rob Turner and drafted another center, Brian Schwenke, in the fourth round.

Velasco didn’t just play golf after the Titans released him at the end of August. He also stayed in shape, confident that a call would come from an NFL team sooner rather than later.

The Steelers reached out after Pouncey got hurt, and one thing Velasco does remember from the whirlwind week after he signed with Pittsburgh is walking past the six Lombardi Trophies, that are in the team library, for the first time.

Velasco passed them on the way to general manager Kevin Colbert’s office, and he couldn’t help but stop -- and stare.

“I had never seen (the Lombardi Trophy) in person,” Velasco said with a smile. “Something special, and I want to do what I can to get No. 7.”