PITTSBURGH – As the players walked off the field on this hot, humid day, one in particular stood out. He was the one who wasn’t taking his helmet off.
It had been so long since Maurkice Pouncey had put on a helmet, he wanted just a few more minutes in it, even though the Steelers’ first OTA practice of the spring had just ended.
Pouncey, who suffered a torn ACL in the Steelers’ regular-season opener last September, took part in his first practice Tuesday since suffering the injury. Though it wasn’t a full-speed practice in pads and didn’t involve contact, he proclaimed the day a success.
“It was a big step,” said Pouncey, who has been cleared by doctors for all contact. “For the coaches to see it, for my teammates to see it, for me, to see it, it was pretty cool.”
Pouncey missed all but eight plays of the 2013 season after suffering the torn knee ligament when guard David DeCastro hit him in the side of the leg while attempting to block an opponent in the Steelers’ 16-9 loss to Tennessee.
The three-time Pro Bowl center worked hard to rehabilitate the knee and was eager to get back on the football field.
“A month and a half, two 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 pretty neat to go out there and drive-block guys and finish on some plays.”
It was a welcomed sight for his teammates, as well, especially since the early prognosis was that Pouncey might not be ready for football-related activities until training camp in late July.
“As a friend and a guy I know worked so hard to get back out here, it was fun to see him back in the pads,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Pouncey returns an offensive line that the Steelers believe is blossoming into a strength, something that would have seemed strange to say a couple of years ago. With the exception of Fernando Velasco, who filled in for Pouncey for 11 games last season until suffering a season-ending injury, the Steelers return their starting line.
They also have a new line coach in Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Munchak.
“We finished off the season well,” said Pouncey. “A lot of guys played great. To get a new coach who is a Hall of Fame player is great. We really needed that for the group.”
Having a healthy Pouncey play a full season would be a plus.
“They’re what is going to drive this team and this offense,” Roethlisberger said. “As long as they can stay healthy and play every game, we’ll be good.”
Odds and end zones
Tuesday’s practice was the first of 10 sessions the Steelers will hold over the next three weeks. … Safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor were two notable players missing from practice. … Rookie Ryan Shazier, the team’s top draft pick, lined up with the first-team defense at inside linebacker. ... The Steelers will practice today and Thursday before breaking for the weekend.