Did you see what Mike Pouncey did last week?
It was a sight to behold, and the fact it didn’t happen on the field didn’t much diminish its significance because this has been coming for a while and promises to be more enduring than any one game of a season.
Pouncey, who has been a one-man wrecking crew so far, celebrated a coming-out of sorts that put the spotlight where it has rightly belonged for weeks now:
On the Dolphins center.
In a couple of interviews, Pouncey put a Jets player on notice, took the mantle as team spokesman from all the other Miami players who have previously declined to hold it, set talking points for an entire offense if not the entire team and, oh, by the way, helped people around the NFL remember he is perhaps the league’s finest young center.
It was quite a week for Mike Pouncey.
To grasp how all this happened you must understand the dynamic of the Dolphins offensive line for the past couple of seasons.
Jake Long has been the unit’s best player and Richie Incognito has been its most willing and entertaining spokesman. And that has pushed Pouncey backstage because he’s younger and not nearly as highly paid or decorated.
But an interesting thing happened the past six games: Pouncey has become the Dolphins’ best offensive lineman.
As Long has ebbed and flowed, as Incognito has played consistently but never really spectacularly, even as youngsters Jonathan Martin and John Jerry have gotten attention for their struggles and encouraging improvement, Pouncey has been somewhat ignored.
Except, the guy some folks are ignoring has played better than all the others and about as well as any other center in the NFL.
“Yes, he’s playing well. He’s playing very well,” coach Joe Philbin said. “I think he does an excellent job of getting the group going. I like the way he practices. I like the way he competes in the game. I think football is important to him.
“He brings a lot of passion and juice to the locker room, to the practice field and to the game field. I think he’s playing well.”
That’s the local view. Now consider what one AFC general manager told me in confidence Thursday evening.
“The common belief is that his brother [Maurkice] is the best up-and-coming center in the conference and maybe even the league,” the GM said. “The truth is [Mike] is better week to week and, from what I’ve seen, he’s nowhere near his ceiling yet.
“… He’s a keeper.”
The respect Pouncey’s play is earning puts him in a unique position. If his coach and the front-office people around the league have a high opinion of him, you can believe teammates respect his status.
So, increasingly, when Mike Pouncey says something is so … it is so.
And this week, when Pouncey announced that no one is going to bully the Dolphins and no one is going to threaten running back Reggie Bush, his teammates privately agreed that’s how it would be.
That means New York Jets linebacker Aaron Maybin has a problem. In the midst of a sometimes-serious, sometimes-childish quote battle between Miami and New York players, several Jets said they wanted to knock Bush out of Sunday’s game.
New York safety LaRon Landry said it. He even called what he does “head hunting.” And Maybin joined in as well.
“We want to knock him out but we want to do it legally,” Maybin told ESPN NewYork.
That lit a fuse under Pouncey.
“He’s a joke,” Pouncey said of Maybin. “I just think it’s just him wanting to get known and finally get his name said in the NFL. It makes us very mad. He’s not even going to play enough plays to touch Reggie. His comments are irrelevant.”
Pouncey was incensed Maybin, a former first-round pick who failed in Buffalo and has only one tackle this year with New York, would have the nerve to threaten to knock a teammate from a game.
“To hear that stuff from a guy who is one of the biggest busts in the last few years is ridiculous,” Pouncey said. “For him to come out and talk like that about our running back is crazy. We’re not having that.”
Pouncey stopped short of suggesting he would personally look for Maybin in this game in interviews with South Florida reporters. He joked that the only way he could find Maybin would be to play special teams.
But on ESPN radio in New York, Pouncey struck a more ominous note.
“You can tell Aaron Maybin we’ll be after him on Sunday,” Pouncey said.
Call this false bravado if you wish. Call it unnecessary or childish, even. But I think the Dolphins have needed this for a long time.
Players on this team have been perpetually afraid to give opponents any psychological edge by saying what is on their minds. This team has been afraid to talk big for fear of not being able to back up that talk.
Pouncey, likely headed to the Pro Bowl if he continues playing as he has, has no such fear. He believes he can walk the walk if he talks the talk. And, interestingly, Pouncey doesn’t mind towing the rest of his teammates along with him.
Notice Pouncey said, “we’re” not having that. Notice he said it makes “us” mad. Pouncey’s stature on this team is growing and is where he can speak for the others that perhaps are uncomfortable saying anything.
Pouncey, in short, is growing comfortable leading by words as well as deeds now. Everyone saw a glimpse of that last week.
And it was beautiful to see.