Florida's Mike Pouncey out to join twin brother on NFL stage

Last spring, he watched his twin brother and former Florida offensive linemate, Maurkice, forgo his senior season to make the jump to the NFL.
Maurkice was selected in the first round of the 2010 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, signed a five-year, $18 million contract, then earned Pro Bowl honors at center and an AFC championship in his rookie season.
Mike Pouncey, meanwhile, returned to Gainesville, Fla., and vacated his familiar spot at right guard to take over for Maurkice in the middle while trying to boost his draft stock, which he thinks was in the second-round range last year.
It was not exactly a smooth transition.
To start, Mike Pouncey, 21, had to cope with the first-ever separation from his sibling and best friend.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Rating the top prospects in the draft
"It was new; it was tough, especially because we spent our whole life together," the Lakeland, Fla., native said. "Even if I came out (for the 2010 draft), we would have been separated anyway."
But Pouncey also proved scattershot with the shotgun snap in his debut as a snapping Gator.
"I went out and had a bad game. … I told myself when I left the locker room, I'd never play like that again. Since that game, I had a great season," he said.
"I felt like I let everybody in that stadium down. I couldn't sleep. I woke up next morning, I was the first one in that building, and from then on I got it fixed."
Pouncey is confident he has remedied those early misfires to the extent that he'll be drafted to play center, his preferred position. (NFLDraftScout.com, USA TODAY's scouting service, ranks him as its No. 1 interior offensive lineman, though the website lists him at guard rather than center.)
Pouncey is hoping to get such questions answered April 28, when the first round of the 2011 draft will be conducted in New York. He won't be happy if he has to wait to hear his named called April 29, when teams select players in the second and third rounds.
"I've got to be drafted higher than Maurkice, 18th or better," he said with a grin at the NFL scouting combine in February. "(Otherwise), I'd never hear the end of it."
However, Pouncey might have to suffer the indignity — at least to him — of actually going 19th this year to the New York Giants, according to a longtime draft observer.
"I don't think Mike Pouncey has the skill level of his brother. But I think the versatility he brings as that guard-center would help the Giants offensive line," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said.
New York rotated veterans Shaun O'Hara, Adam Koets and Rich Seubert into the middle of their line in 2010. O'Hara is battling lingering Achilles tendon problems this offseason, Koets tore an anterior cruciate ligament in November and Seubert suffered patella, ligament and tendon damage in the regular-season finale. Seubert's availability for the 2011 season is in question as he rehabilitates on his own during the lockout.
Giants general manager Jerry Reese acknowledged at the combine that the team needed offensive line help but played his cards close to the vest.
"(We've had) a couple pretty catastrophic injuries at that position (center)," he said. "We're always looking to improve every position."
Kiper shared skepticism about Mike Pouncey's prospects as an NFL center, but he still could be a potential replacement for Seubert, the Giants starting left guard before he was forced to take over for O'Hara and Koets late in the season.
"There's a debate within NFL circles: Is he a guard? Is he a center?" Kiper said of Pouncey. "But that versatility certainly would help the Giants.
"Mike's not as good as Maurkice was, but he's close enough to warrant first-round consideration."
Mike Pouncey got a different assessment at the combine from NFL personnel men.
"They basically said we look the same on film; some of the teams even said I look better," he said, citing what he deemed his superior open-field blocking before snapping off one final tidbit in a good-natured sibling rivalry.
"There's a lot I do better off the field. We'll discuss that some other time."
But the on-field comparisons could continue to be a dilemma for Mike Pouncey.
"It's a curse, because you don't often get a rookie at the center position who's going to be an all-pro and a Pro Bowl player. That's a curse when people think that's going to happen," NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said.
"But it's a gift because he is a Pouncey. We talk so much about bloodlines. How about this bloodline? And remember, he can play three positions. …
"I think this guy is a tremendous player, and I think ultimately it's a gift for him."
Mike Pouncey acknowledges that an NFL club is "not going to draft me because (Maurkice) played good," but he's driven to provide a level of play at least identical to his twin's.
"We're fierce competitors, obviously. Everything he accomplished, I want to do the same thing and even better."
Perhaps no outcome could be better for Mike Pouncey than landing with Pittsburgh, which has a hole at right guard but might have to trade up from the No. 31 slot to get him — if not appease his desire to be picked higher than Maurkice was.
"It would be nice. I'm not hoping for anything, because when you hope for stuff it never happens," said Mike Pouncey, who hung around the Steelers at Super Bowl XLV when several players coyly suggested he suit up for Maurkice, who missed the game after breaking his ankle in the AFC Championship Game.
"We talked about the chances (of playing together), but it's not looking too good. But there's free agency in the NFL, so you never know."


2011 NFL Mock Draft: San Francisco 49ers Claim Patrick Peterson at No. 7

Patrick Peterson Should Probably Go Higher Than No. 7, but the 49ers Won't Hesitate if He's There for the Taking

It was obvious after the Combine who the best overall athlete in this year's draft class is: LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson. At an even 6'0" and upwards of 210 pounds, he's got the size of a safety, but his 4.34 40-yard dash showed that he has elite speed too. Thus, any GM looking to draft a cornerback in late April goes to sleep thinking about Peterson.

Well, that's kind of awkward. But it's probably true, so I'm going to leave it.

In any case, one of the teams looking for a boost at corner is the San Francisco 49ers, who are keepers of the No. 7 overall pick. Because Peterson is good enough to go No. 1 overall, they're probably thinking they don't have much of a prayer in landing him. But because the six teams picking ahead of them have bigger needs to fill than cornerback, it is entirely conceivable that Peterson, through no fault of his own, could fall to the 49ers.

If he does, it will be a no-brainer.

1. Carolina Panthers: Marcell Dareus, DT
2. Denver Broncos: Da'Quan Bowers
3. Buffalo Bills: Nick Fairley, DT
4. Cincinnati Bengals: Robert Quinn, DE
17. New England Patriots: Cameron Jordan, DE
18. San Diego Chargers: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE
19. New York Giants: Nate Solder, OT
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ryan Kerrigan, DE
5. Arizona Cardinals: Von Miller, OLB
6. Cleveland Browns: A.J. Green, WR
7. San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Peterson, CB
8. Tennessee Titans: Blaine Gabbert, QB
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Aldon Smith, DE/OLB
22. Indianapolis Colts: Corey Liuget, DT
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Anthony Castonzo, OT
24. New Orleans Saints: Akeem Ayers, OLB
9. Dallas Cowboys: Prince Amukamara, CB
10. Washington Redskins: Cam Newton, QB
11. Houston Texans: Jimmy Smith, CB
12. Minnesota Vikings: Mike Pouncey, OG
25. Seattle Seahawks: Jake Locker, QB
26. Baltimore Ravens: Gabe Carimi, OT
27. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Rudolph, TE
28. New England Patriots: Shane Vereen, RB
13. Detroit Lions: Tyron Smith, USC
14. St. Louis Rams: Julio Jones, WR
15. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: J.J. Watt, DE
29. Chicago Bears: Derek Sherrod, OT
30. New York Jets: Jonathan Baldwin, WR
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Danny Watkins, OG
32. Green Bay Packers: Justin Houston, OLB

2011 NFL Mock Draft: San Francisco 49ers Claim Patrick Peterson at No. 7

Most recent updates:

2011 NFL Mock Draft: Carolina Panthers Select Marcell Dareus No. 1 Overall
2011 NFL Mock Draft: Denver Broncos Take Da'Quan Bowers Second Overall
2011 NFL Mock Draft: Buffalo Bills Go for Nick Fairley at No. 3
View all updates


2011 NFL Draft: Are the Oakland Raiders Targeting SEC QB?

By placing the highest possible tenders (first and third-round draft choices) on tight end Zach Miller and back-up running back Michael Bush, the Oakland Raiders continue their offseason spending spree and ensure continuity from last year’s 8-8 squad. The re-signing of Richard Seymour, Stanford Routt, John Henderson and franchising Kamerion Wimbley, will shore up some key personnel positions, but the Raiders had to practically break the bank to do it.

Seymour’s two-year extension is worth 30 million and keeps the Pro Bowler in Oakland through 2012. Veteran run-stuffing tackle John Henderson—who missed seven games with injury—inked a two-year deal for $4 million. Outside linebacker Wimbley had nine sacks, and will collect $10 million as the Raiders’ “franchise” player. And Routt re-signed with the club for three years and $31.5 million.

I’m no financial wizard, but that’s a lot of cake and it appears the cupboard is bare for Nnamdi Asomugha. The top free agent in the league seems destined to move on from Oakland. As will be the case for O-lineman Robert Gallery, who met with owner Al Davis last week, and discovered his time was up with the Silver-N-Black. The second-overall pick in 2004 was asking for $8 million and the Raiders were offering $2.5 million.

Yet, it’s new coach Hue Jackson who’s feeling all the pressure. He brought the Raiders’ offense out of the Dark Ages and into respectability. Jackson also famously said he was building bully in Oakland and the team would win the AFC West. Honestly, I think the Raider Nation would settle for Darrius Heyward-Bey becoming a competent deep-threat in 2011.

Mallett's draft stock plummets as charater issues swirl around the big arm QB
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Still, Jackson can only be as good as his quarterback allows him to be. The sometimes beleaguered Campbell ran the gamete last season. He went from goat, to hero, to the bench—and then suddenly figured it out over the final month of the season.

In the final analysis, Campbell’s quarterback rating of 84.5 and his touchdown to interception ratio of 13 to eight has got to improve. A benchmark season for Campbell would be 20-something touchdowns and no more than 12 interceptions.

With the 2011 NFL draft only weeks away, here’s how the Oakland Raiders will replace Gallery and (possibly) Asomugha. Davis will also be targeting a quarterback from the SEC, but his name isn’t Cam Newton.

Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas - At No. 48, the Raiders could be looking for either a cornerback or a versatile lineman. But they could also have a chance at snaring a big-time arm. The controversial Ryan Mallett cut short his press briefing at the NFL combine, as issues about his character and drug use were raised. Mallett’s stock is falling like a rock and his nonchalant approach to answering these questions has only muddied the waters.

This Drew Bledsoe type signal caller has dropped out of the first-round and looks to be an early to mid-second round choice. Arizona, Cincinnati and Tennessee are the primary teams of interest, but Mallett could be around when Oakland makes its selection at 48.

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Strengths: Mallett throws the deep ball better than any quarterback in the draft. His mechanics and throwing accuracy are pro ready. Mallett’s overall passing efficiency was one of the highest in the country and the junior should have no problem finding receivers at the next level.

Weaknesses: The 6’7” quarterback needs to shorten his release. Scouts say it takes too long for the quarterback to get the ball out of his hand and into the air. Defenses will be licking their chops if this issue isn’t solved.

Other quarterbacks in this range include Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick, FSU’s Christian Ponder and Washington’s Jake Locker. As for positions of need, here’s the short list of players the Raiders will be looking at if they don’t go after Mallett.

Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia – Dowling has all the intangibles that Mr. Davis loves in a cornerback. He has speed (4.4 in the forty), height and the ability to run tight press coverage. All of these attributes make Dowling an unpolished, but worthy replacement for Asomugha. He’s also strong against the run and is a form tackler. Most expect the Cavaliers corner to be taken late second round.

Stephen Wisniewski, C/G, Penn State – They call him “Little Wiz” but the nephew of former Raiders lineman Steve Wisniewski is far from tiny. At 6’3” and 300 pounds, Wisiniewski can play center or guard. He’s quick, athletic and finishes blocks. Wisiniewski played in a solid program at Penn State and understands the nuisances of blocking. Detroit may take him at No. 44 or he could slip to the Eagles at No. 54.

Aaron Williams, FS/CB, Texas – If Michael Huff doesn’t return, then Oakland might have Huff’s replacement on the board. In 37 games with the Longhorns, Williams recorded four interceptions, 97 tackles, 15 passes defensed and forced six fumbles. He plays with good instincts and became a capable man-to-man defender. On the flip side, Williams has a tendency to be an arm tackler and needs to be more physical in goal line and short yardage situations


A week after DUI arrest, Cabrera's return to baseball seems hasty

LAKELAND, Fla. -- On a perfect, warm weekday afternoon in Tigertown, the groundscrew sweeped the infield and stenciled the Old English "D" behind home plate, and Miguel Cabrera rejoined the Detroit Tigers as autograph seekers staked out the clubhouse door. All seemed well under the Florida sun.
That summary skips over some of the day's chronology -- Cabrera met the media for the first time since his DUI arrest a week ago, and Major League Baseball announced a treatment plan for the slugger -- but the end result is the same.
Detroit's $152 million franchise player has been cleared for all baseball activity and thus will be in camp tomorrow, ready to play at the discretion of manager Jim Leyland.
MLB's statement came from the desk of executive vice president Rob Manfred, and it announced a "multifaceted, professionally-administered program for Mr. Cabrera, which will include supervision as is necessary to ensure that he adheres to the program." Future incidents could involve "more serious consequences." The Tigers would support the league's initiative.
What that means in actuality is unclear. General manager David Dombrowski said he had seen the program and that it was "very thorough" but said he could not elaborate except to indicate that it would not involve intake into a rehab facility or cause Cabrera to miss any time. There will be no suspension for misconduct. For now Cabrera is a Tiger and ready to play ball.
It is impossible to judge the severity of someone else's illness or addiction from afar -- especially in this case when details were not disclosed and the player himself declined to explicitly admit he had a problem with alcohol -- but the public nature and reported details of his two alcohol-related incidents of the past 16 months make it hard to imagine that the chosen course of actions is enough.
It was early Oct. 2009 when Cabrera was taken to a police station in the wee hours of the morning -- just before the Tigers played an important series to determine whether they'd make the playoffs -- after he reportedly got into a fight with his wife and at the time had a steep blood-alcohol level. For comparison's sake, it was three times the legal limit for driving.
Last year, however, outwardly appeared to be a feel-good story, as Cabrera arrived at spring training and said he had stopped drinking. He was regularly seeing a counselor. He then went out and had an MVP-caliber season with a .328 average, 38 home runs and 126 RBIs. Most importantly, he appeared to be healthy and in a good place.
But that image was shattered last week when Cabrera was arrested on suspicion of DUI as he drove to begin spring training. Cabrera reportedly smelled of alcohol and even took a swig from a bottle of scotch when police approached his broken-down car, stranded by the side of the road some 110 miles from his destination of Lakeland. He allegedly invoked the famous arrogant athlete defense of "do you know who I am?"
In Cabrera's first incident, he was not charged but police responded to an alleged domestic dispute. In the second incident, his court date is March 16, but drinking and driving is another very serious and very dangerous incident and needs to be treated that way.
Cabrera began his remarks on Thursday afternoon by apologizing to his teammates, fans, family and the Tigers. He sounded heartfelt and sincere. He then switched from English to his native Spanish (with Detroit's assistant general manager, Al Avila, serving as translator), the language he felt most comfortable with for discussing a delicate -- and legal -- matter. In Spanish he apologized to and even thanked the police in Fort Pierce who arrested for the way they handled everything.
"It was one bad decision on my part," Cabrera said, as relayed by Avila. "I will continue my treatment and do everything the doctors ask of me."

That's about the time that his comments grew lacking. When asked for clarification that this was indeed the only time he had a drink since his last arrest, Cabrera did not directly answer the question (at least not as translated by Avila).
Cabrera pledged that he'd try his best going forward -- "I will work hard to regain that respect," he said, according to Avila -- but fell short of saying he had a problem with alcohol. When asked if he was ready to admit that he was an alcoholic, a word he previously had been reluctant to use, Cabrera said he was not a doctor and that they would be best to diagnose the situation.
Life for Cabrera will certainly be different, though to what extent we do not know. Cabrera and Dombrowski both declined to discuss specifics of the treatment program, saying it was "confidential." The one aspect that was acknowledged was the possibility of Cabrera having a sponsor or chaperone of sorts to keep tabs on him, much like the Rangers' Josh Hamilton -- who has openly discussed his problems with alcohol and drugs -- has wherever he goes.
Dombrowski, speaking on behalf of the Tigers, said he hopes fans see how sincere Cabrera is and how committed he is to making his treatment work. Unfortunately, that's exactly what no one is able to see, given how little about his treatment was actually discussed.
As the formal remarks of the press conference wrapped up on the field of Joker Marchant Stadium, it was hard to ignore that a camera-toting, middle-aged fan wearing a home Tigers jersey -- Cabrera's jersey, of course -- had walked over to the nearby stands and peered inside the stadium at the assembled media near the first-base dugout.
Afterwards, three other fans stood near the clubhouse door, holding artifacts for Cabrera to sign. Asked for their thoughts on the recent events, a man in his 20s who later identified himself as Jason from Lakeland, said, "Glad to have him back."
Indeed, Cabrera is back, just eight days after his second alcohol-related incident in 16 months. It's Feb. 24. You'd think he could put off baseball a little while longer and make sure his head is right.
One of the last questions asked of him was whether he was ready to play baseball. Perking up, Cabrera reverted to English and said he had been working out.
It's hardly like he left at all. And on a day when Cabrera wasn't ready to concede he had a problem with alcohol, his hasty return to baseball is, quite clearly, a problem of insufficient accountability.