Nothing has fazed Maurkice Pouncey during his remarkable ascent so the rookie center doesn’t figure to blink, as Mike Tomlin would put it, when he experiences his first Ravens-Steelers game.
Pouncey will spend much of Sunday lined up against Kelly Gregg or Haloti Ngata as he plays against a 3-4 defense for the first time in the regular season.
And the best defense, at least statistically, in the NFL.
“This guy has a tall challenge this week,” Tomlin said of Pouncey. “He’s doing an extraordinary job as a rookie but we don’t grade on a curve.”
Translation: Pouncey’s inexperience won’t be an excuse if he struggles with Gregg or Ngata, whom Tomlin said is “as dominant a defensive lineman as there is in football right now.”
Pouncey has been up to every challenge Tomlin has given him in becoming the first rookie position player to start during the fourth-year coach’s tenure.
Now comes the biggest one, almost literally, of his young career.
The 6-4, 350-pound Ngata has a unique blend of size and athleticism, and he plays everywhere along the defensive line. Gregg, Tomlin said, will be no bargain either when the 6-foot, 320-pounder is lined up over center.
Pouncey has looked like the next great center in the long line of them that have played for the Steelers. Sunday will provide a pretty good gauge of just where the 6-4, 304-pounder is as the Ravens will try to confuse Pouncey with different looks and overwhelm him with brute strength.
As Tomlin said, “He’s going to be introduced to the Ravens-Steelers rivalry pretty quickly, I’m sure.”