PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers' Maurkice Pouncey is relieved to be back on the field after a horrific 2015 season that saw the Pro Bowl center undergo six surgical procedures and a skin graft, he told ESPN.
Pouncey broke his left fibula in the preseason when Green Bay Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix fell onto the back of his leg. Packers receiver Jordy Nelson also tore his anterior cruciate ligament in that Aug. 23 game.
Pouncey suffered a setback in October. The surgical wound didn't close properly, resulting in a staph infection.
"It was scary," Pouncey said. "I don't want that on my worst enemy."
Pouncey has recovered from the injury and fully participated in offseason workouts, even as the coaching staff has urged him to take days off.
He's making up for lost time.
In October, Pouncey was preparing for a return to the lineup by running and working out at the team facility. Something didn't feel right. An examination found Pouncey's wound didn't heal as the team had hoped, he said.
In the ensuing weeks, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin never officially ruled out Pouncey for the season when talking to reporters. But his 2015 was basically over.
"It all went downhill from there," said Pouncey, who was eligible to return Nov. 8 against Oakland after a stint on short-term injured reserve. "It all happened so fast. I thought I was going to play."
"I blame no one. We're all professionals. I respect this organization for everything they did to get me through this."Maurkice Pouncey
The staph infection hadn't yet reached the bone; after corrective surgeries, Pouncey slept with a PICC line for medicine two different times. At some point, Pouncey also had an E. coli infection that wasn't as serious but required attention, he said.
Pouncey said he underwent multiple surgeries along with a few "clean-outs," plus the graft, equaling seven procedures total.
He also made two visits to Dr. Robert Anderson's clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina. Anderson is a renowned foot and ankle specialist and essentially served as a second opinion. Pouncey went to Anderson's clinic because he's considered the best in that field. "I can't play around with my career," Pouncey said.
Pouncey doesn't blame anyone for what happened, pointing out that "we all took the heat for it" and saying he knows the injury was complicated.
"We had to figure out the best plan possible to get it right," he said. "No one really had that many infections like that [around here]. ... I blame no one. We're all professionals. I respect this organization for everything they did to get me through this."
Pouncey's offensive line teammates visited him every Thursday to keep his spirits high. Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey, Maurkice's twin brother, called him every day. His girlfriend and 4-year-old daughter did their best to make him smile.
Pouncey learned enough about staph infections, so now he immerses himself in blocking techniques. By the second week of organized team activities, Pouncey started to feel like himself, planting and turning with vigor. The metal placed in Pouncey's leg for stability was removed during the procedures, which Pouncey considers a positive.
Minicamp is over, but instead of vacationing over the next week, Pouncey said he'll be putting in two-a-days in South Florida. He rested for five straight months, after all.
"It's just another reality check, shows you how fast things can be taken away," Pouncey said. "At the same time, it's a humbling experience, shows you how much something is important in your life, and football is very important to me."