Our series on the players in whom the Cowboys have expressed interest moves from glory to guts; we shift our line of focus from the skill position pretty boys to the big uglies up front. We'll start right in the middle, with Florida center (most likely a guard in the NFL) Mike Pouncey. Pouncey is the twin brother of Pittsburgh 2010 first-rounder Maurkice Pouncey. Last year, when Mike Pouncey requested an evaluation from the draft advisory committee in 2010, they gave him a late first-round grade. He wasn't satisfied, and decided to remain in Gainesville for another year. After starting for two years at guard (after starting out on the defensive line), he slid over, to his brother's former position, starting every game at center in 2011.
The transition was not without its bumps. He had a devilish time making center snaps, particularly in the shotgun. But as the season went on, he gained momentum, eventually earning All-SEC honors. You can see him in action in this video for the Rimington Award, given each year to the nation's best center (his brother won the award last season). He followed that up with a strong showing at the Combine; a video of his workout can be found here.
In recent days, Pouncey is most famous for a tweet, posted while on his way out of Dallas after his visit to Valley Ranch, in which he claimed that he "would be shocked if i wasn't in a dallas uniform nxt year!"
In no small part due to the success of his brother in anchoring the Steelers' line last season, Pouncey has been drawing a great deal of interest from NFL teams. In addition to the Cowboys, he has scheduled visits with the Bengals, Chiefs, Redskins and Lions.
What are all these scouting minds thinking? Check it out after the jump...
National Football Post (Wes Bunting) top-rated OC; 21st overall
A natural bender who can really sit into his stance off the snap, fire off the football low and consistently get under the pad level of opposing linemen in the run game. His combination of initial burst and power really makes him effective as an in-line blocker, as he gets his arms up quickly, hands under the chest plate and pumps his legs through contact. Also, is routinely one of the first linemen firing off the football. Is really coordinated through contact as well, does a nice job sitting into his stance, maintaining his balance and cleanly shuffling his feet through the play. Now, isn't the most aware at times off the snap, will struggle to recognize his man and get caught taking improper angles, allowing himself to be jolted on contact. But, he's a good enough athlete to rework his hands and at least create a stalemate inside and stick to the block.
Is comfortable on the move, takes good angles in space, is pretty fluid/rangy for a big guy and breaks down well on contact. Does a nice job as a short-area athlete chipping at the line, quickly redirecting and reaching a linebacker off his frame.
Looks comfortable in pass protection, takes a quick first step off the line and does a great job keeping his base down and feet under him laterally. Is smooth when asked to slide and shuffle and displays impressive mirror ability even in space. Now, isn't real heavy handed, possesses a quick recoil and always keep his hands up and ready to punch, but too often allows defenders to fight off his block and he relies more so on his ability to mirror in space. However, redirects well and can anchor on contact, as he works his hands to consistently gain inside leverage. Does have trouble with his accuracy snapping from the gun at center; might be limited to guard only in the NFL.
Impression: A gifted athlete who plays with bend, explosion and natural athleticism in both the run and pass game. No reason to think this guy can't be starting early in his NFL career and become a very good lineman at the next level.
The Sporting News (Russ Lande) 3rd-rated OC; 64th overall
Strengths: Pouncey is a quick-footed center with good flexibility and athleticism. He has very surprising quickness and speed to get outside to lead block on outside runs. When he stays over his feet, he can block defenders well in the open field. Is quick getting through the line of scrimmage and can seal linebackers out of the play and when he keeps his knees bent; can maintain blocks well in the open field. Can pin and seal defensive tackles to the side of the play on in-line run blocks. Flashes the ability to lock up defensive tackles while the running back goes by him. Can set up quickly in pass protection with a good knee bend and can block with a good base and leverage. Keeps his feet moving and can slide well from side to side to maintain blocking in pass protection.
Weaknesses: Pouncey is not a strong center who can physically control defensive tackles. He has a bad habit of stopping his feet after contact and ends up leaning and reaching to maintain blocks, which leads to him overextending and falling off of in-line run blocks. Needs to use hands more aggressively in pass protection to jolt and slow aggressive pass rushers. Had some issues with shotgun snaps in 2010.
Bottom line: Pouncey made the right decision when he chose to return to school for his senior season, as he is a better player now than in 2009. While he is not as strong or powerful as his brother, Maurkice, who started for the Steelers in 2010, he has the talent to become a productive starting center or guard in the NFL. Still, he needs to make a few improvements to reach his potential.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki) top-rated OG; 21st overall
Positives: Big, strong and naturally thick. Can match up with massive wide-bodies-really battled and bulled Alabama's Marcell Dareus. Has a defensive disposition and will get after it. Plays with a good, power base and lower-body strength-strong anchor and contact balance. Commanding, vocal line leader. Versatile. Has a proven NFL pedigree. Tough, passionate, and extremely hard-working-takes pride in his craft. Superb football and personal character.
Negatives: Really struggled snapping the ball and consistently made errant shotgun snaps low and to the left of the quarterback with a funky, flick, wrist-snapping motion-skee-balled to many balls to the quarterback. Inconsistent hand use. Does not innately feel pressure or switch off blocks to account for the blitz. Lunges on the second level and lands on the ground too much. Tends to lock his legs and play a bit tall.
Summary: Converted defensive tackle who stayed in school to replace his brother at center but really struggled snapping the ball and appeared comfortable as a guard a year ago. Has been deemed the safest offensive lineman in the draft because it is assumed he will have the same success as his twin brother, but those who have really studied the two can see that he does not have the same savvy that his brother did and is not as NFL-ready. Rare size, versatility and pedigree will elevate his draft status.
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton) top-rated OC; 25th overall
Pass Protection: Displays a wide base and gets into sets quickly. Possesses a strong initial punch and does a nice job of using hands during combat. Light on his feet and can shuffle and mirror to stay in front of rushers. Flashes ability to recover once caught out of position by double moves. Can get rocked back by powerful initial bull rush but showed ability to sink hips and regain leverage.
Run Blocking: Quick first step and gains proper hand placement and initial position. Balanced and always has feet underneath him. Plays with leverage and possesses a strong inline power base to get adequate movement. However, can be stoned and occasionally overpowered by bigger and more massive interior DTs. Displays lateral agility to hook 3-technique or cut off shade from the backside. Works to sustain blocks but needs to do a better job of finishing. Can get down the line quickly when asked to pull. Showed some open-field capabilities but needs to do a better job of adjusting on the move to cover up targets. Makes a smooth transition when climbing to the second level to cover up LBs.
Awareness: Overall instincts are solid. Shows good patience in pass sets and keeps head on swivel to recognize pressures or defensive line movement. Stays discipline against defensive line twists and does a nice job of handing off rushers. Quickly identifies and locates LBs when coming up and through the line of scrimmage on short pulls. Keeps eyes up when working combo blocks and comes off in a timely manner to cover up defenders at second level.
Toughness: Possesses good overall playing strength. Plays with an aggressive attitude and works to the whistle. Flashes a nasty side and not afraid to mix it up. Will finish on occasion but would like to see more consistency in this area.
Intangibles: Twin brother of Maurkice Pouncey, first-round pick of the Steelers in 2010. Has assumed a leadership role this offseason along the offensive line. Coaches rave about on- and off-the-field personality. Will have the experience and versatility to line up at both center and guard.
Other than Lande, who seems to have gone off the deep end a bit with his evaluations this year, Pouncey's grades are remarkably consistent. I expect him to be taken off the board exactly in the range these scouts suggest: between picks 20-25.
Clearly, the Cowboys don't have a pick in that range. The fact that they are interviewing Pouncey suggests, therefore, that they are considering trading down quite seriously. In my Dallas prospects chart, I'm going to create a column for players who they could take in such a trade. That's where I'll place Pouncey (and many of the other OL who were invited to Valley Ranch)
Next up: TCU OC Jake Kirkpatrick