Maurkice Pouncey couldn't help but smile after the Steelers' first OTA session on Tuesday. And how could you blame him for his good mood.
"I am out here, full-go," said Pouncey.
After suffering a season-ending knee injury in the opening game last year, and being relegated to the role of a spectator for what seemed like an eternity, being back on the field for the first OTA session was pure bliss for Pouncey.
"It was a big step for my coaches to see it, my teammates to see it, and for me, it was pretty cool," said Pouncey. "I was able to block guys and finish on some plays. It was pretty awesome."
Pouncey, who spent the entire offseason working out in Pittsburgh with his sights set on this day, said he had no problem running and that the knee felt fine afterwards.
"To come out here on the football field and do it is awesome," said Pouncey.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was among those thrilled to have Pouncey back as well. Roethlisberger and Pouncey have a tight bond, and know each other's on-field nuances better than anyone.
"It's comfortable," said Roethlisberger. "He's a comfort blanket, and he's a leader of this team and a leader of the offensive line, and it's just good to see him out there because he's a football player and he loves the game. It was great to see as a friend. He's a guy that worked so hard to get back out here, and it's fun to see him back in the pads."
In Pouncey's absence last year the team signed Fernando Velasco, but his season was cut short when he was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 30 with an Achilles injury. He was in turn replaced by Cody Wallace, and while both turned in strong performances, having a Pro Bowl center in Pouncey back on the field is invaluable for the offense.
"It's an honor to have our captain back to control the ball on every snap," said wide receiver Antonio Brown. "He was out there with us going hard, sweating. I am just thankful he is back on the field healthy."
Pouncey said he started to feel really good physically about a month-and-a-half ago, and now it's just getting over the next hurdle, which is the mental aspect of returning.
"It's getting your confidence back and feeling that you can go out there and do it," said Pouncey. "I think the physical part is all done by the doctors. They did a great job."