Managing Expectations for a Mike and Maurkice Reunion

On our last podcast Gretz brought up something that crossed all of our minds at some point last season: what if the Steelers drafted Brother of Maurkice this April? It would lead to an avalanche of inevitable, “Hey, they’re TWINS!” news stories (in which case, we all win, because, really, who can ever get enough of that?). But after the hysteria subsides, the conversation will eventually turn to something more substantial. Like: can Mike play? And more specifically: how well can he play relative to his brother, a rookie Pro Bowler?

This is my fear with the Steelers taking Mike P: expectations for him will be higher than they were for Maurkice a year ago. Last summer, the plan was to see what Maurkice could do, perhaps let him play guard as a rookie if he could beat out Trai Essex (I’m laughing now just thinking about the possibility of Essex besting Maurkice in anything), and Justin Hartwig would keep his job for another season.

The plan changed after a few training camp practices and by the time the Steelers left Latrobe, Maurkice was a starter and Hartwig was on the fast track out of the NFL.That Maurkice had so much success so quickly was a nice surprise, but certainly not expected in July.

Maybe my fears about Mike are irrational. The Steelers aren’t drafting him because they love his brother. Mike will end up in Pittsburgh because he’s a legit prospect who would immediately upgrade the offensive line. And while it’s easy to say, “Remember, they’re different players,” it’s sometimes hard to keep that in the front of your mind when the games start. Other than the few times I watched the University of Florida last fall (and the only reason I tuned in was to see them lose — blame the media dry-humping Tebow for that), I have no firsthand knowledge of what type of player Mike is. He was a guard when Maurkice was a junior, and moved to center in 2010, where he struggled early before settling down.

Luckily, you folks don’t have to rely on me for your draft analysis. Doug Farrar has been doing the lord’s work over at Shutdown Corner, and he evaluates Mike P.’s draft prospects last week.

The takeaway: Mike ain’t Maurkice. “The obvious NFL comparison is with his brother, but I don’t see it – I think Mike is just that much more physical and would be best-served by not having to worry about the intricacies of the center position,” Doug writes. “While he could certainly get the coaching points over time, true piledriver guards don’t grow on trees. That’s where Mike Pouncey’s true value lies.”

Compare that ESPN’s Todd McShay:

“The problem with Mike Pouncey is he’s compared to his brother, Maurkice, and his brother is just at a different level. Mike is a good player, he really is. I know he had some struggles at the center position with the snaps early in the season, and they pretty much got that figured out. But he moves well. I like his feet and I like his potential to play guard and/or center in the NFL. I think when it’s all said and done, maybe he comes off the board late first [round]. But I think it’s more likely early second round. He has a chance in the right system. With his versatility and his quickness, it really gives him a good chance to become one of the upper-echelon starting interior linemen in the NFL three or four years down the road.”

McShay, one half of ESPN’s tag-team draft duo, sounds a lot like me. Interpret that as you will. (Or better yet, read this. It’s awesome.)

The bottom line: I’d happily welcome Mike P. to Pittsburgh, and he’d upgrade the unit. It’s just that we shouldn’t expect Mike to have a Maurkice-type rookie season. No so much because I don’t think he’s capable, but to avoid the predictable “BENCH HIM FOR LEGURSKY — WE KNOW WHAT HE CAN DO!” fanaticism after Mike has a bad game three weeks into the season. You know what this means, right: Maurkice will be long gone before the Steelers go on the clock. Or worse: the Jets will take him at No. 30 … for spite.

*******

Sorta related, Mike L had an interesting post on the SL message boards (What? You didn’t know that there were SL message boards?). He has some thoughts on trading up in the first round if the right player is available.

In general, I’m opposed to trading up, but that doesn’t mean you should never consider it. The Steelers moved up to get Troy Polamalu in 2003. I don’t even want to imagine what this team would now look like if Colbert didn’t pull the trigger on that one. (I remember some pre-draft speculation had the Steelers interested in Rex Grossman that year. Let that sink in for a minute and then thank god for having mercy on us.) Same deal with Santonio Holmes. Great call.

I don’t yet know enough about this draft class, or where guys will likely be slotted, to have a “should they or shouldn’t they trade up” opinion, but I’ll happily listen to any thoughts you guys have on the matter. Because, really, that’s why we keep you around.

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  • Randy Steele

    I disagree with McShay about Mike Pouncey’s skillz. Just watch him play. He’s such a legit, big-time interior lineman, and there’s no way he’ll last until 1.31. If he slides at all, watch the Patriots grab him at 1.28.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UR6KXGPFIFYZSVJNCXCJNHDQJQ Bob Costas

      “I disagree with McShay.”

      (fixed)

  • Cols714

    I really doubt they are going to take a guard here. I’m expecting either a DB, and this could easily be a safety – I’m guessing the Steelers are tired of having their defense rest entirely on whether or not Troy is healthy – or they are going to take a nose tackle type.

    But I really think they are going defense first, guard in the 2nd or 3rd rounds.

    • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

      I would be fine with DB first — either CB or S — and OL next.

      • Randy Steele

        I think we all fall into the trap when anticipating the draft of thinking position rather than player. With the exception of QB, RB, and a couple other spots, take the best player available, especially in Round 1.

        You don’t want to risk that pick by chasing a position you think you need to fill, and that includes CB.

        • Anonymous

          I think in reality you strike a balance. You have certain needs, and you also have a certain ranking of players. “Hopefully” your needs are wide enough that BPA restricted to those needs is still a fine choice. The less you need a position the more special the player has to be to take. If Nick Fairley fell to 31 for some magical reason, or Andrew Luck declared and also fell to 31, you very likely take him, but I think the Steelers needs of “OL or DB” is probably broad enough that taking the best available player at one of those positions will be the optimum strategy.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    Between drafting for positional need and taking BPA, I lean much more towards BPA. Most picks don’t contribute a ton in the first year. And there aren’t more than 1-2 positions on a team where you have both a starter and a backup who are young enough, good enough and under contract than you couldn’t use an excellent player a year or two down the road. Other than QB and C, I can’t think of any positions where adding a young stud player wouldn’t help a year from now.

    I also like it when we trade up or down because it is a sign that BPA, our need, and the needs of teams around us have converged. Our success rate with such trades seems like it has been pretty good relative to expectations (eg, compared to our other picks and other teams’ pick success rates). A blog post reviewing our success rate on trading up and down would be interesting.

  • Cols714

    ELSM
    I think we are all on agreement on BPA combined with need with a greater weight toward BPA.

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  • Anonymous

    “You know what this means, right: Maurkice will be long gone before the Steelers go on the clock. Or worse: the Jets will take him at No. 30 … for spite.”

    You mean Mike.

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