As much discussion as there is about the left tackle being the most important position on the offensive line, the center position has been - at times - a weakness of the line due to the lack of Mike Pouncey acting as the all-important anchor.
Pouncey, who is still only 27 years old, has undergone several hip procedures, and hasn't played through all 16 games of a regular season since 2012. Last season was his most injury-riddled year yet, as he only played five games before going down with another hip injury.
Naturally, this has led to skepticism as to whether or not Pouncey is a reliable option to be a starter despite his reputation as one of the league's top centers. The phrase "health is a skill" has been thrown around a lot, and combined with Pouncey's nearly $9 million dollar cap hit, fans are losing patience with the former Pro Bowler.
But head coach Adam Gase has stated numerous times this offseason that the plan is to have Pouncey play all 16 games (and more) in 2017, and as a result he's been extremely careful during the center's rehab.
And so far, it seems to have Pouncey on the right track.
“He’s really improving." Gase said on Thursday. "We feel like we’re on a really, really good track right now and we’ll wait to the next doctor’s visit when we get kind of that report back and see what our next step would be. Or did anything change? Better? Worse? We’re just trying to really focus on the steps that the doctors have us right now."
In the past, Pouncey has sabotaged himself by forcing his way back onto the field before his body was ready in order to help his team. This is admirable and speaks to Pouncey's toughness, but it's hurt his long-term career. Now, Pouncey is taking a different approach.
"He’s done a good job of not trying to push ahead and say ‘Hey, I’m a fast healer and I’m tough.’ We all know that." Gase said. "The biggest thing for us is we need him healed because that’s really what it is, it’s time. He wants to be out there but it’s no good if we only get him for a couple of games. We need him for the duration.”
Pouncey was seen on crutches earlier this offseason, bringing a lot of concern from fans, now though, in support of Gase's comments, Pouncey is doing rehab work and appears to be walking just fine.
"When he was on crutches, you could definitely tell he was struggling a little bit." said Dolphins backup center Anthony Steen. "I think he was 75-80 percent for a while on the crutches. The past two weeks, he’s seemed fine to me – three weeks.”
It's still unknown whether Pouncey will be available for training camp, but ultimately the focus should be on the regular season. Pouncey knows how to do his job, so if his whole offseason is spent healing, that will be more than acceptable.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
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