PITTSBURGH - Kelvin Beachum wasn't built to play center. Sorry, grow up the biggest kid on the block and you tend to get stereotyped by football coaches.
So Beachum spent his childhood at tackle, where a quiet kid from Texas could use his frame to push defensive linemen around with relative ease.
Eight plays into last Sunday's 16-9 loss to Tennessee, that all changed. One minute, the Pittsburgh Steelers reserve offensive lineman/was standing on the sideline watching the Steelers drive deep into Tennessee territory, the next, he was snapping the ball to Ben Roethlisberger after Pro Bowl standout Maurkice Pouncey left on a cart, his right knee mangled and his season already over.
CATCHING ON QUICKLY — Pittsburgh tackle Kelvin Beachum lines up at center during the fourth quarter against Tennessee in Pittsburgh.
-- Associated Press
While Roethlisberger knelt on the field, his hands on his head, Beachum fired off a couple of snaps trying to make sure he knew what he was doing. There weren't any jitters. It all happened so quickly, he didn't have the luxury of getting nervous.
"There no time to go through the emotions or feel your way through," Beachum said. "You have to just go play football."
And for all the chaos that surrounded Pittsburgh's forgettable opening weekend, Beachum's ability to handle a position he hadn't played since Pee Wee is cause for optimism heading into Monday night's game at Cincinnati.
"Beachum is going to do well," guard Ramon Foster said. "We're going to help him as much as possible. The operation should be the same."
Even if the guy who usually runs the switchboard is scheduled to undergo surgery on Thursday to repair torn ligaments in his knee. While the Steelers preach a "next man up" philosophy, there's little doubt Pouncey's absence on the field will be felt.
The loss might be even more acute in a locker room where the 24-year-old commands the respect of players a decade older. He is the only one of Pittsburgh's four captains on the younger side of 30, a testament to his leadership in the huddle and his magnetic presence on the sideline.
Given a full week to prepare for the Bengals, Beachum is confident he'll be a capable fill-in thanks in part to Pouncey's guidance. Members of the offensive line meet at Pouncey's house every Thursday, where they watch film and get massages.
During those sessions Pouncey will hit the clicker and point out what he sees. Beachum is a rapt student. He's picked up the line calls quickly and studies the assignments at all five line positions. It's that cerebral approach that led the Steelers to take a seventh-round flier on Beachum in 2012.
"Kelvin knows his stuff," Roethlisberger said.
Beachum beat the odds to make the 53-man roster. By the end, he was starting at right tackle. The path from survivor to contributor is one he couldn't have made without Pouncey.
Beachum likened Pouncey to a "big brother" even though Beachum is actually six weeks older.
"He's been in the league for awhile," Beachum said. "He can really talk to you about things."
That includes cramming for a test he never expected to take. Beachum spent portions of training camp working at tight end, a wrinkle in offensive coordinator Todd Haley's system designed to give the line another thumper in short-yardage situations.
While Beachum politely says "no" when asked if there is a call that would allow him to go out as an eligible receiver, the smile on his face reveals the idea might have crossed his mind.
Those thoughts of living out every lineman's dream will have to wait. Beachum and Roethlisberger spent portions of practice Wednesday working off to the side tinkering with different snap counts trying to develop a rhythm.
Though coach Mike Tomlin indicated Beachum will have every chance to hold onto the job for the rest of the year, the Steelers signed free agent Fernando Velasco on Monday as insurance.
Velasco started 16 games for the Titans a year ago and was more than a little stunned when he didn't make it out of training camp. There are worse places to land than Pittsburgh, however, and he's eager to get up to speed.
"I'm just going to work with the guys and see what happens," Velasco said.
Beachum isn't looking over his shoulder, though. Instead, he's working side by side with Velasco. It's part of the Steeler Way.
"There's a brotherhood in the NFL," Beachum said. "He's giving me tips. He's played the position longer than I have. So it's one of those things, we're making each other better.
"At the end of the day, whoever the best guy is going to play."