Velasco at Center Could Be a Game-Changer for Steelers

VelascoFans of the Pittsburgh Steelers really don’t have a lot to be excited about heading into Monday night’s game at Cincinnati when it comes to the running game. The Steelers were about as bad as they’ve ever been on the ground and while the Titans had something to do with that, much of it was self-inflicted. Saying the loss of Maurkice Pouncey wasn’t a factor wouldn’t be fair either although I don’t think his presence would have done much on a day where little went right.

Taking over for Pouncey will be Fernando Velasco who started at center all 16 games last season with the Titans. He was cut by Tennessee when they decided to go younger and cheaper at the position.

I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself here but I just have a feeling that Velasco is going to work out. I’m not suggesting that he’ll suddenly turn the running game into an unstoppable force but I think his style will allow the running game to get back to some basics.

Velasco is very different from Pouncey who relies more on agility and speed. Velasco is more of a solid-based center who can anchor down the middle of the formation. What that means for the running game is probably a decrease in the new zone blocking scheme and a return to more base blocking. I could be wrong but that’s what I’m seeing based on his style.

The Steelers announced that Velasco will start Monday night. Isaac Redman was quoted by several journalists saying that Velasco picked up the playbook quicker than anyone he’d ever seen.

The starting of Velasco means that Kelvin Beachum can return to being the number one back-up off the bench and more importantly for Todd Haley’s offense, he can return to being an extra tight end. The Steelers struggled on the edges last week. David Paulson and David Johnson were both below average and it hampered the running game. With a more dominant force at center and Beachum back where he can help the offense better, the running game could pick up. And I stress “could.”

Don’t forget the impact that Velasco has on pass protection as well. His size and wide base will provide a different challenge for the Bengals’ front four. Last week, Ben Roethlisberger saw a lot of pressure up the middle and Velasco can possibly cut some of that pressure off.

If you’re asking why, if this guy is potentially so good, then how was he still available a week into the season? It’s actually pretty simple. Velasco was cut from the Titans because of numbers and he wasn’t going to go to just any team for any price either. The Steelers have re-worked Heath Miller’s contract to be able to afford him and I think it could be well worth it.

For a team struggling like this one, a good move is bound to work out and I’m hopeful this one is it.

Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 4pm ET talking Steelers.

 

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5 comments on “Velasco at Center Could Be a Game-Changer for Steelers

  1. That’s an interesting point about Velasco’s effect on the zone-blocking scheme. If he’s a less-mobile center than the Steelers were planning to have (i.e., Pouncey), presumably he is not going to be able to move as much laterally on pulls and swing passes, etc. Does that mean the new zone-blocking scheme will not work as planned? Will Todd Haley and Jack Bicknell have to scale back? One thing for sure: The running backs just have to perform better. Right now, Felix Jones may be the best fit for the zone-blocking scheme, and that makes you wonder why the Steelers implemented a scheme that may not not be suited to the skills of at least half their RB personnel (Isaac Redman and (help us) Jonathan Dwyer). We shall see.

    On the other hand, Fernando Velasco may be just what the doctor ordered, especially considering the types of nose tackles and defensive fronts that have given the Steelers trouble the past few years, Haloti Ngata, etc., and Geno Atkins is no day at the beach, either.

    No doubt, the Steelers got a bad break losing Pouncey, although the quality of his play over the past two seasons remains up for debate, but they got lucky when Velasco was still available. He is just what they need at the center position. Unfortunately, they need a lot more help along the offensive line, especially at both tackle positions. Velasco alone won’t do it. He may provide limited help with outside run schemes, but (hopeffully) he will stabilize the middle of the pocket. and protect Ben.

    I more or less dismiss or, at least take with a grain of sal, the Pro Football Focus Rankings, but there is something to them — they do have some merit. There’s a big difference between being rated No. 11 (Velasco) over the course of a full season discount and being rated No. 25 (Pouncey). The drop-off from Pouncey to Velasco may not be so bad. And, the fact that he is going to start just six days after being signed points to just how dire the situation would be if he weren’t here.

    Good pickup. Fernando Velasco will be the most popular Steeler since Zoltan Mesko.

    • Good stuff Bern. I do think with Velasco playing center it will reduce what the offense does in terms of zone blocking. That said, I don’t think they will abandon it all together. Still could see some stretch plays.

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