LATROBE, Pa. 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 Foster's chuckle on a muggy late morning earlier this week at St. Vincent College was a question about the "mean," in-your-face persona the Steelers' offensive line appears to be embracing more than ever this season.
"Definitely, we have a little nasty edge to us," the right guard said.
As one former Steelers offensive lineman prepares for induction into the Hall of Fame Saturday â" Dermontti Dawson â" indications are that this season's reconfigured unit will play with an edge befitting a franchise traditionally known for its toughness and physical play.
"Our coach teaches us ... to always finish," Foster said. "If you've got a guy going down, put him on his back and show him why you are doing what you're doing."
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 he's 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 "Ghostbusters" 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 Dermontti 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 that's good, too, because he'll acknowledge that just about every player that lines up across from him has different feelings. It's not uncommon to see the former Pro Bowl center in a defensive lineman's face, involved in a skirmish or even sometimes taking personal foul penalties.
"Totally different dude," Pouncey said of his on-field personality. "I lock in, I'm trying to be a warrior, try to go as hard as I can and try to go out there and lead the squad. I won't even think about being a nice guy out there. I'll shake your hand afterward. But during the game? It's not happening."
Pouncey is only entering his third year with the Steelers (No. 7 in the AP Pro32), but he's 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.
"You've got to be able to kind of let other people across the field from you know that you've got teeth, too â" and that you're willing to bite," Colon said. "If you're able to do that, it just makes a statement."
Colon is one of the most popular players in the Steelers locker room among teammates, coaches and media, as well. One of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's 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.
"I'm a passionate guy out there," Colon said. "Ever since I've 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. You've got to have a no-backdown mentality, and I wear it with pride."
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 "mean" tone to camp for a team that went 12-4 last year. Even Pouncey marvels at the "nastiness" of the man who lines up to his left, Colon.
"He's a dog, man," Pouncey said. "He's a monster in there."
Pittsburgh feels as if it's added another monster in David DeCastro, who is competing with Foster to start at right guard. The Steelers' first round pick out of Stanford, the 6-5, 316-pound DeCastro has been playfully dubbed "Mr. Personality" by teammates in Latrobe. In contrast to the outgoing Pouncey and Colon, words such as "angry" and "focused" were used by college teammates to describe the man who helped protect No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck.
"He looks like a military dude," Pouncey joked of the dark-haired, crew-cutted DeCastro. "He's too serious some of the time. But man, he's a great guy to have out on the field."
That's all the Steelers ask out of all their offensive linemen.
"We expect physical play from all our players," Pittsburgh offensive line coach Sean Kugler said. "We drill it that way, we coach it that way. You want the same mentality all the time."
It didn't 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 "mean streak," Haley jokingly answered, "You think?"
Pouncey, perhaps, said it best when describing how the Steelers' linemen strive to approach their jobs:
"Go out there and just try to beat up on the guy across from you."
And then when it's over, flash those smiles in the locker room.
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