From Jeremy Fowler,

PounceyAsk Ben Roethlisberger about Maurkice Pouncey and the ribbing session begins, unprompted.

“We’re not that close. Because he thinks he’s really good. And he’s just OK,” said Roethlisberger from his locker. “Sometimes I wish Mike [Pouncey] was here.”

All this is said for Pouncey to overhear from his locker, which is two stalls down from Roethlisberger’s corner setup.

“Hey, Mike’s gonna love that s—, too,” Pouncey said.

Eight years of huddles, snaps, text messages and dinners make moments like this feel routine for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback and center.

Or, as Roethlisberger calls it, “being us.”

“We rip each other a little bit, but there’s a lot of love there,” Roethlisberger said.

The Steelers’ colorful offense has the game’s best receiver (Antonio Brown), most disgruntled receiver (Martavis Bryant), most relentless back (Le’Veon Bell) and youngest player (JuJu Smith-Schuster). But at the core are Pouncey and Roethlisberger, two team leaders who are always together and use each other as sounding boards.

The QB-center battery will discuss everything from internet memes to what’s best for the offense.

“If there’s an issue, a lot of times he goes to Maurkice — that’s how the relationship is,” guard Ramon Foster said.

Roethlisberger considers himself an extension of the offensive line, the unit he most needs for success. The receivers, he says, naturally need him because he has the ball. But check most dead moments in practice and Roethlisberger is hanging with Pouncey and the rest of the line.

Roethlisberger took a special liking to Pouncey, who was 21 when the Steelers drafted him in 2010. He felt drawn to him.

“He sees stuff in me that others don’t, I guess,” Pouncey said.

The “stuff” is a fiery persona that carries weight in the locker room. Roethlisberger saw a good player, sure, but also a voice that fuels the Steelers’ intensity throughout the week.

It’s infectious enough that Roethlisberger’s moods run low when Pouncey’s do. Coach Mike Tomlin and former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians used to tell Roethlisberger that his energy, good or bad, affects the rest of the group. And that’s how Roethlisberger feels about Pouncey.

“I told him the other day, something happened, and I said, ‘Pounce, it’s so unusual to see you in a bad mood,'” Roethlisberger said. “When he’s not the same, it kind of brings everybody down. In a way like, ugh, where’s our energy? Where’s our spark plug? And that’s him, he’s our spark plug … When you’re down, we’re all down.”

Pouncey knows not to be down again.

“Hell yeah, because I don’t want him to say anything,” said Pouncey with a laugh. “I know he’s going to say something to me if I don’t.”

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