The Steelers' offensive line gave up 50 sacks in 2009, the same as the year before that. Fixing the unit became a top priority -- protecting franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was transitioning from gunslinger to pocket passer seemed like a good idea -- and it's why, in April 2010, center Maurkice Pouncey was the team's first-round pick.
And despite injuries that limited him to just one game in 2013 and none last season, Pouncey, who was healthy for all of 2016, is a five-time Pro Bowler and the anchor to an offensive line that is now one of the league's best. Heading into a meaningless Week 17 game against the Browns, when the Steelers rested Pouncey (along with Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell), the offensive line had allowed just 18 sacks all season.
According to Football Outsiders, the unit ranks fourth in pass protection, after finishing near the bottom of the league before Pouncey's arrival.
We mention all this because of something Pouncey, 27, told Sports Illustrated's S.L. Price for a recent story about the evolution of Roethlisberger -- the man, the quarterback and now, the leader.
"I say all the time: The moment he walks away, I'm walking right behind him," Pouncey said of Big Ben, who will be 35 in March. "You get so used to playing with that type, man, and I don't know if I'm ready to walk into a huddle with another quarterback. I don't think I'll ever be."
Pouncey, who starred at Florida alongside Tim Tebow, said Roethlisberger commands respect like no other quarterback he's played with.
"Ben has something most people don't," he said. "He doesn't have to say much. If he just looks at you, even in the game ... Say, for example, I have a low snap. I'd rather Ben say something than give me that look. But he's not going to call us out in the media. He'll come to us personally: 'Pounce, that snap was low there ...'
"Some people might think different, but I think he's the greatest guy in the world. The best leader. The best quarterback. If Ben told me to go swing on a guy? I'd run right over and do it."
Roethlisberger, whose current contract runs through 2019, is playing some of the best football of his career. It's reasonable to think that he has at least another 3-4 years in him, and if the offensive line continues to protect him like they did this season, perhaps even longer.
For now, the Steelers are focused on their wild-card matchup against the Dolphins on Sunday. Plus, neither the organization nor the fans want to think about what a post-Big Ben (and, possibly, post-Pouncey) offense would look like.