LATROBE, Pa. (AP) Pittsburgh Steelers' center Maurkice Pouncey is happy to be playing football again after the All-Pro nearly had the game he loves taken from him.
Pouncey suffered a broken ankle that required surgery in the Steelers' third preseason game last season. He was placed on the team's short-term injured reserve and planned to return later in the season, but several unexpected setbacks threatened his career.
''He could've lost his leg,'' Steelers' offensive lineman Ramon Foster said. ''To have it almost taken away . that guy's career almost ended. He's excited to be back on the football field and I'm looking forward to seeing him in the first preseason game.''
A severe infection set in, resulting in additional surgeries - seven according to Pouncey, who underwent three major procedures and four he described as `clean ups.'
''Playing football was never a concern,'' Pouncey said. ''The biggest concern was the infection. Whenever you have an infection, you can't predict that. The medicine really has to work the right way. Everybody was hoping for the best. You really can't blame anyone. Things happened and it went downhill.''
His teammates were concerned.
''He would get done with a surgery and go right back into another one,'' Foster said. ''It was trying. You can say it's just cosmetic stuff, but that's painful and time consuming.''
Pouncey initially planned to return in late November at Seattle, a week after the team's bye.
''It makes it even more frustrating, having a chance (to return) and then losing it, but he handled it well,'' offensive line coach Mike Munchak said. ''I'm sure it was depressing because you feel like you're not part of the team even though you still are. It's a hard thing mentally for a player.''
Members of the offensive line tried to help by going to his house every Thursday.
''It was very important because you feel left out,'' Foster said. ''He was just glad to have us around. He would order the food and he would pay for it. He wanted us there. When you have that type of situation, and you finally get him back healthy, he's not taking it for granted.''
Pouncey didn't hold back in his return either, taking part in spring offseason workouts. He's participating fully during training camp practices at St. Vincent College.
''He's a hard guy to rest because he only knows 100 percent,'' Munchak said. ''We'll do our best to rest him, especially preseason when we can control him, but you can't be worried about things happening. That's how he plays the game.''
Pouncey hopes for a return to form this season.
He became the first center in NFL history to be selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons. The Steelers were confident enough to make Pouncey the highest paid center after he missed all but eight snaps of the 2013 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He followed it up with his second All-Pro and fourth Pro Bowl season in 2014.
''There's really nothing he can't do,'' Munchak said. ''I think it's the whole package that makes him special.''