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Pouncey passed the test

For most people, it hasn't happened since grade school, when the teacher would pose a problem to the class and then call on someone to come up and solve it on the blackboard. Remember the anxiety, first over being called on and then over having to regurgitate what you had been taught, and do it all in front of a bunch of people?

Now, imagine having to do that with millions of dollars at stake, and you have some idea of what faced Maurkice Pouncey that day during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

"When you get really interested in a player, you talk to their coaches, you talk to teammates, you do whatever you can to try to find out more about that player," said offensive line coach Sean Kugler. "But, really, until you sit down one-on-one with him, try to relay information to him the way you teach it (in position meetings) and see how he absorbs it, you really don't know. You're taking somebody else's word for it."

Taking somebody else's word is way too much a part of the NFL Draft to suit most teams as it is, and based on the typical signing bonuses paid out to the guys picked on the first round, mistakes are expensive. The Steelers wanted to see for themselves before they would consider Pouncey a candidate for their first-round pick – 18th overall – in the 2010 NFL Draft.

"More than anything, of course," said Coach Mike Tomlin, "we've talked quite a bit about the importance of the center position and it being a hub of communication not only for the offensive line, but the offense from a protection standpoint."

And so Kugler spent a portion of the team's 15 allotted minutes with Pouncey, who played center at the University of Florida for three full seasons, and showed him some of the basic defensive alignments used in the NFL and teaching the team's terminology for the corresponding offensive line calls along the way. He taught it the way it's taught during position meetings at the NFL level. Fast.

"I drew it up on the board, like I was teaching it to him, and then I went through some more extensive things – how we call some pressures, how we call some safety alignments," said Kugler. "It filled up the whole board. Then I went ahead and wiped it, and talked to him for a few minutes about football in general, so he wasn't able to be still focusing on what had been on the board. At that point, Kevin Colbert and Coach (Mike) Tomlin came into the room, and then I had him get back up there and re-teach it. A little pressure."

Pouncey pancaked the pressure and aced the test.

"He was right on the money," said Kugler. "Sometimes guys struggle with that, the retention of it. A big part of football is the way you retain things in the classroom and carry them out to the football field and then ultimately to the game. He was awesome.

"You would really have to have a true knowledge, because you can't get up there and just BS your way through it. He's just a gym rat when it comes to football."

To put some numbers to Kugler's opinion, here are a portion of the more impressive ones: in 2009 Pouncey started all 14 of the Gators' games at center and led the nation's interior linemen with a 91.57 percent grade for blocking consistency, he did not allow a quarterback sack or pressure, nor was he penalized on any of the team's 919 offensive snaps. Pouncey started 39-of-41 games during his college career, and in 2009 as a junior became the first player in school history to capture the Rimington Trophy, given annually to the nation's best center.

"Coach Tomlin and I sat in the back of the room and watched," said Colbert about Pouncey's session at the board, "and we were very impressed at the way he could recall what he was taught and give it back to Coach Kugler almost flawlessly."

Once an NFL regular season begins, there isn't a lot of time available to teach the rudimentary aspects of the playbook, and so part of being a success is the ability to learn information quickly and retain it from the classroom to the practice field, and then apply it during games.

"I think he has a good football demeanor," said Kugler. "He was well-coached down at Florida. He's been a successful player through high school and college. He works at it."

And he's a winner. During his high school career at Lakeland, Pouncey's team won three straight 5A state championships and two national championships along the way to posting a 45-game winning streak.

"That's all I've learned to do," said Pouncey about winning. "I don't take losing very good. I just love the game of football, and I want to go out every time to beat the man in front of me."

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