Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey puts ‘Free Hernandez’ cap flap behind

Most every word Mike Pouncey utters publicly these days is monitored — by his own team.

When Pouncey speaks to the media, there’s usually a Dolphins representative within earshot. That was the case Wednesday when he held court for some 15 minutes after practice.

It’s not uncommon for PR handlers throughout sports to keep close tabs on their stars, but Pouncey is a special case. His “Free Hernandez” hat controversy has put him under the microscope.

“No question, I’m being watched a lot more,” the Dolphins’ starting center said. “I’ve got to be very conscious of what I say and what I do.”

In the three weeks since the start of training camp, Pouncey has shown great discipline. Reporters swarmed him on the first day of training camp, all wanting to know if he — like twin brother Maurkice, a center for the Steelers — would apologize for wearing a hat in support of longtime friend and fellow Florida Gators alum Aaron Hernandez, the former Patriots tight end charged with murder.

Pouncey uncharacteristically said nothing, and Maurkice said he believes it’s because his brother was instructed not to. The Dolphins, from coach Joe Philbin down, have been mum on the issue.

“I made my mistakes in my life. I’m not perfect,” Pouncey told the Miami Herald. “But I’ve got to do a better job of being a leader and staying away from that stuff.”

His change in demeanor has not gone unnoticed.

When asked about his third-year center Wednesday, Philbin went out of his way to mention Pouncey’s leadership.

“We think he’s an ideal scheme fit, and then I think from a leadership standpoint, a communication standpoint, he does a very, very good job, as well,” Philbin said when asked of Pouncey’s strengths.

Added left guard Richie Incognito: “Pouncey sets the table for us as an offensive line. He goes up there, and he trusts what he sees and he’s real clear communicating what we’ve got to do. That really allows us to play a lot faster. Just him being so smart and so sure of what he sees, it makes the whole O-line better.”

Put it all together, and the Dolphins would be hard-pressed to move Pouncey from the middle of the line, short of a string of catastrophic injuries.

After John Jerry went down with a knee issue, the Dolphins worked Pouncey some at right guard, but he has been back solely at center the last few weeks.

Philbin on Wednesday acknowledged what has been widely assumed: center is the best use of Pouncey’s talents.

Pouncey agrees. In fact, he wants to be better at that position than anyone in the league — his brother included.

“No question, especially when you’ve got a brother that’s already been the best center in the NFL for three years now,” Mike Pouncey said. “I know I don’t like going home and everyone’s like, ‘Maurkice is the best.’ I get tired of hearing it.”

That’s what fueled him during the offseason, when he and Maurkice spent most of their waking hours working out in Boca Raton.

Their morning sessions began at 8 a.m. with weights and running. The Pounceys strength-trained with skill-position players to sharpen their fast-twitch muscles.

Then after a short lunch break, it was time for a heavy lift. At night, they did Pilates to cool down. This went on five days a week, for months.

“It’s all about for this time right now,” Pouncey said. “So once football season comes around, you have no regret.”

The intense regimen has helped keep Pouncey healthy. He hasn’t missed a start in his first two seasons.

Pouncey has allowed just five sacks in his career, according to Pro Football Focus, but that’s five too many in his book. He wants to go the entire 2013 season without being the reason Ryan Tannehill hits the ground.

“I think I’m miles away,” Pouncey said. “I think there’s a lot of improving to do. Obviously, I think I’m playing a lot of good football when I’m out on the football field. The sky’s the limit right now for me and my brother.”

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