LATROBE â" Ramon Foster gives a wide smile, looks to the ground sheepishly and laughs quietly.
Like most of the men he lines up next to on the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line, Foster is affable, fun-loving and often flashes that smile â" off the field, anyway.
In the trenches? A different story.
What induced Fosterâs chuckle on a muggy late morning earlier this week at St. Vincent College was a question about the âmean,â in-your-face persona the Steelersâ offensive line appears to be embracing more than ever this season.
âDefinitely, we have a little nasty edge to us,â the right guard said.
As one former Steelers offensive lineman prepares for induction into the Hall of Fame today â" Dermontti DawsonÂ â" indications are that this seasonâs reconfigured unit will play with an edge befitting a franchise traditionally known for its toughness and physical play.
âOur coach teaches us ... to always finish,â Foster said. âIf youâve got a guy going down, put him on his back and show him why you are doing what youâre doing.â
Strong words from a 6-foot-6, 325-pound former undrafted free agent from Tennessee who has started 26 games over the first three years of his career. But Foster delivers that message with a soft voice and something of a verbal shrug when heâs in his T-shirt, basketball shorts and sandals.
Center Maurkice Pouncey is even more jovial when in street clothes. He resembles the Marshmallow Man from âGhostbustersâ fame a bit â" more so for his ever-present grin than his 6-4, 304-pound frame.
Following in the lineage of Mike Webster and Dawson, who was elected to the Hall of Fame earlier this year, as All-Pro Steelers centers, Pouncey is the type of player that everyone in Pittsburgh likes. Personally, professionally, you name it. And thatâs good, too, because heâll acknowledge that just about every player that lines up across from him has different feelings. Itâs not uncommon to see the former Pro Bowl center in a defensive linemanâs face, involved in a skirmish or even sometimes taking personal foul penalties.
âTotally different dude,â Pouncey said of his on-field personality. âI lock in, Iâm trying to be a warrior, try to go as hard as I can and try to go out there and lead the squad. I wonât even think about being a nice guy out there. Iâll shake your hand afterward. But during the game? Itâs not happening.â
Pouncey is only entering his third year with the Steelers (No. 7 in the AP Pro32), but heâs already the most tenured player at his position on the line. Former college teammate Marcus Gilbert took over at right tackle early in his rookie season last year when Willie Colon sustained a torn triceps in the season opener.
Colon has since been moved to left guard. That has Pittsburgh coaches and players â" including Colon himself â" excited at the possibilities. Colon prefers an aggressive style, and guard more so fits that.
âYouâve got to be able to kind of let other people across the field from you know that youâve got teeth, too â" and that youâre willing to bite,â Colon said. âIf youâre able to do that, it just makes a statement.â
Colon is one of the most popular players in the Steelers locker room among teammates, coaches and media, as well. One of quarterback Ben Roethlisbergerâs best friends on the team, Colon is introspective and engaging. But, like Foster and Pouncey, Colon flips the proverbial switch once he puts on his shoulder pads.
âIâm a passionate guy out there,â Colon said. âEver since Iâve been here, the offensive line has always kind of been the unit to lead the way, and to do that you kind of got to be fiery. Youâve got to have a no-backdown mentality, and I wear it with pride.â
Sometimes, maybe a little too much.
The first Steelers practice of this training camp that involved shoulder pads was only a few drills old when Colon was involved in a mild pushing-and-shoving incident with a defensive teammate. After practice, though, it was over. And more than one teammate commented they hoped Colon would do it again, just to maintain the âmeanâ tone to camp for a team that went 12-4 last year. Even Pouncey marvels at the ânastinessâ of the man who lines up to his left, Colon.
âHeâs a dog, man,â Pouncey said. âHeâs a monster in there.â
Pittsburgh feels as if itâs added another monster in David DeCastro, who is competing with Foster to start at right guard. The Steelersâ first round pick out of Stanford, the 6-5, 316-pound DeCastro has been playfully dubbed âMr. Personalityâ by teammates in Latrobe. In contrast to the outgoing Pouncey and Colon, words such as âangryâ and âfocusedâ were used by college teammates to describe the man who helped protect No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck.
âHe looks like a military dude,â Pouncey joked of the dark-haired, crew-cutted DeCastro. âHeâs too serious some of the time. But man, heâs a great guy to have out on the field.â
Thatâs all the Steelers ask out of all their offensive linemen.
âWe expect physical play from all our players,â Pittsburgh offensive line coach Sean Kugler said. âWe drill it that way, we coach it that way. You want the same mentality all the time.â
It didnât take new offensive coordinator Todd Haley long to pick up on the mentality of his new linemen. When asked if he thought the unit had a âmean streak,â Haley jokingly answered, âYou think?â
Pouncey, perhaps, said it best when describing how the Steelersâ linemen strive to approach their jobs:
âGo out there and just try to beat up on the guy across from you.â
And then when itâs over, flash those smiles in the locker room.