Labriola On

Labriola on Pouncey the leader, more Colbert

Ready or not, here it comes:

• As Pro Days go that spring, this was the place to be. A sizable chunk of the NFL's personnel people gathered that day in Gainesville to get a final, up-close look at some of the soon-to-be-stars of the 2010 NFL Draft.

• The group of Gators who would be strutting their stuff were part of an SEC dynasty before Alabama became The SEC Dynasty, and those University of Florida players who exhausted their four years of eligibility would have been a part of a 48-7 regular season record and two BCS Championships. They were the rock stars of the sport as played at the collegiate level.

• Maurkice Pouncey was there that day in Gainesville, even though he wasn't one who had used up all of his college eligibility. Maurkice had decided to turn pro even though he could've had another season with Coach Urban Meyer's Gators, and his decision was rooted in that he wanted his twin brother, Mike, to have an uncontested shot at playing center because both twins saw that spot as their best position in the NFL.

• And while it was left unsaid, the NFL scouts knew that Mike Pouncey couldn't play center if Maurkice was still on the team, because, well, Maurkice was better and only one guy gets to start at center on a football team.

• Anyway, one of the reasons to attend a college's Pro Day as opposed to simply getting a copy of the video and watching it is to see how the players interact with each other. It can reveal leaders vs. followers, maybe hint at which guys love even the drudgery of their sport vs. which guys do it because they have to do it vs. which guys just go through the motions. There has to be value in watching it live because too many NFL big-wigs typically attend, and Gainesville, Florida, never will be mistaken for the Las Vegas Strip.

• Among the athletes at Florida's Pro Day in the spring of 2010 were three players who would become first-round draft choices, another three who would be second-round draft choices, and three more who would come off the board in the third, fourth, and fifth rounds. The nine Gators drafted in 2010 were the most of any college program to enter the NFL that year.

• Tim Tebow was the face of that group. Maurkice Pouncey was the leader.

• When the players gathered for some final words before the start of the exercise, they gathered around Pouncey. When it was time for the group to move from one station to the next, they followed Pouncey. When Pouncey talked, they listened. If Pouncey said something humorous, they laughed. The cameras and the microphones followed Tebow, but the players followed Pouncey.

• There was Joe Greene, and no player in franchise history matched what he brought as a leader. Also, James Farrior, a big part of the two championships won in the 2000s. But whenever the recent history of Steelers football is being discussed and remembered, and the subject of difference-making leaders is brought up, do not forget or under-sell Maurkice Pouncey.

• Congratulations to Maurkice Pouncey on his retirement, and never underestimate the impact of that ankle injury he sustained in the 2010 AFC Championship Game that then kept him out of Super Bowl XLV as a significant reason why the Steelers still are looking to win their seventh Lombardi Trophy.

• It once was said to me that taking the field with Mike Webster was "like walking down a dark alley carrying a big stick." The same applies to Maurkice Pouncey.

CAN'T PLAY TAG THIS OFFSEASON
• It's the most powerful weapon in management's arsenal when it comes to being able to hold onto one of the best players on a team, and it speaks to the Steelers' dire salary cap situation that they won't be able even to consider using it this offseason.

• The franchise tag was one of the cornerstones of the system of free agency tied to a salary cap that became part of the NFL way of doing business back in the early 1990s, and the Steelers have deployed it judiciously since then to retain some of their best players of the last 30-some years.

• Not this offseason, though, because one of the provisions in place for a team to be able to use its franchise tag is that it must have the salary cap space to cover the amount of the tender that comes with having the ability to restrict a player's movement to another team.

• In past years, General Manager Kevin Colbert never would eliminate the possibility of the Steelers using the franchise tag in an effort to keep one of their best players, but when asked on Feb. 17 about using the tag this offseason, he said, "I would say it's doubtful that we will be able to use a tag."

• Colbert rarely speaks in absolutes, but in this case "doubtful" means "impossible." It's impossible for the Steelers to be able to use the franchise tag before the March 9 deadline to do so because they first would have to shed an estimated $20 million just to get into compliance with the suspected salary cap of $180 million, and then they'd have to shed almost another $20 million to create the space to utilize the franchise tag.

• On whom would the Steelers use the franchise tag in 2021? My personal opinion is it sure would be nice to have a vehicle to ensure Bud Dupree's services for another season, but it's just not realistic to expect the Steelers to get cap compliant first and then create another $19 million worth of room to tag him.

MORE THAN A 'ONE OFFSEASON' PROPOSITION
• The "Matt Canada offense" became a thing as soon as he was hired by Mike Tomlin last year to be the quarterbacks coach. Now that Canada has been tabbed to replace Randy Fichtner as the offensive coordinator, there will be just one impediment to the installation of his preferred style of offense.

• Personnel.

• "Coach (Tomlin) and I have talked about that because I've asked Coach Tomlin with Matt [Canada] taking over, will we be looking at different (position) players differently?," said Colbert. "And Coach is always going to talk about what we have and how we can adapt. Maybe as we move into the future and we are deciding on a wide receiver-type or a running back-type or a quarterback-type or an offensive lineman-type, we may shift as we evolve and learn what Coach Canada's offense is about. We have seen it work in the college ranks, and we saw the types of players he used in different roles. So, can we adjust to that as we go on? Yes. Will we adjust immediately? No.

• "I know Coach Tomlin will do what our players can do best under Coach Canada's offense and the schematics that he puts together. And over time I think we can adjust. But right out of the gate, I think it is hard to make those types of adjustments."

• This should underscore the time it's going to take to make the switch to Canada's style of offense while also continuing to reinforce the roster in other areas to be able to fulfill the franchise's goal of being competitive each season.

• This offseason will afford the Steelers almost no ability to utilize free agency to that end, and seven-to-10 draft picks simply aren't sufficient to get everything done, because half of those picks will land in the later rounds when finding NFL-capable prospects becomes even more of a crapshoot.

• Colbert said his contract expires at the end of May, and "fortunately, (the Steelers) are willing to work with me on a year-to-year basis. And quite honestly, that is all we deserve, because we have to continue to prove ourselves each and every year."

• The Steelers better hope Colbert doesn't opt to follow Maurkice Pouncey into retirement in 2021, because the team needs him to help get it through its current situation. Because it's not a one-offseason job.

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