Maurkice Pouncey gets back to work

PITTSBURGH -- If there were any doubts about the health of Maurkice Pouncey, the linchpin of the Steelers' offensive line, the Pro Bowl center erased them in one play Tuesday during the team's first offseason practice.

Pouncey, in his first football action since last September, reached the second level of the defense, locked onto rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier and drove the first-round draft pick back a couple of yards. For good measure, Pouncey bounced right up after Shazier shook off the block and sent the fourth-year veteran sprawling on grass.

If the humidity that blanketed Western Pennsylvania gave the Steelers' first organized team activity the feel of August, so did the sight of Pouncey directing the offensive line -- and looking like anything but a player who tore several knee ligaments, including his ACL, early last September.

Pouncey, who missed all but eight snaps last season, practiced without any restrictions Tuesday and looks like he could start training camp tomorrow.

"No problems at all," Pouncey said of his reconstructed right knee. "I was able to block guys and finish on some plays. It was pretty awesome."

Pouncey, the only center in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl after his first three seasons, suffered a season-ending injury in the Steelers' opener last year when right guard David DeCastro crashed into his right leg while trying to block a Titans defensive linemen.

The center left the field in a cart and his injury cast a pall over Heinz Field as well as the Steelers, who lost 16-9 to Tennessee.

"It wiped me out," Pouncey said of the missed DeCastro block, "but it was all an accident. That's in the past."

It sure seemed that way, with as well as Pouncey moved during the workout.

"It's just good to see him out there because he's a football player and he loves the game," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "It's fun to see him back in the pads."

Not that Roethlisberger was surprised to see Pouncey on the field a little less than nine months after the latter injured his knee.

"I thought he could have played at the end of last year," Roethlisberger said. "That's how hard he worked and the dedication and the time he put into it. That's the type of competitor and athlete that he is."

The Steelers could not have played Pouncey at the end of last season because they'd put him on injured reserve shortly after he was injured.

Pouncey, who was voted a captain by his teammates last season, said he turned a corner in his recovery a couple of months ago.

"I started feeling really great, especially in the weight room," he said. "To come out here on the football field and do it is awesome. It was big for my coaches to see it, my teammates to see it, and for me, it was pretty cool."

Strong safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor were the notable players not at the team's first OTA.

Polamalu has typically skipped most OTA practices, which are voluntary, so he can train in California. Coach Mike Tomlin had shrugged off a question about whether it was important for Polamalu to be at OTAs because the Steelers will have a new starting strong safety in Mike Mitchell.

"They're voluntary," Tomlin said recently. "It's not 100 percent attendance across the league. I'm not getting into that with any particular player. We'll work with the ones that show up and get them better."