SCI Snapshot: Josh Mauro

Josh Mauro interception (Madison/Getty Images)

Josh Mauro signed with the Steelers as a priority free agent and explained how his time at Stanford prepared him for his role in Pittsburgh.

Before choosing David DeCastro in the first round of the 2012 draft, the Steelers didn't have much history with players from Stanford University.

In fact, none of the three Stanford players the Steelers had drafted prior to DeCastro ever started a game for them:

* Gary Kerkorian, a quarterback/kicker drafted in the 19th round in 1952, completed 46 percent of his passes and made 44 percent of his field goal attempts. He was traded to Baltimore after one season.

* Frank Atkinson, drafted in the eighth round in 1963, was the Steelers' first pick that year but the reserve defensive tackle was gone by the following season.

* Bob Nichols, a tackle drafted in the ninth round in 1964, was also gone after one season.

But now the Steelers have DeCastro entering his third season, and they might also have one of his former Stanford teammates if undrafted defensive end Josh Mauro can make the team.

Mauro started only one year at Stanford, but played well enough to join the Steelers as a priority free agent last May. His $10,000 signing bonus tied OLB Howard Jones for highest given to any of the Steelers' undrafted rookies. And that didn't come as much of a surprise, since Mauro had talked about his admiration for the Steelers -- along with the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots -- during his media interview at the combine last February.

"Yeah, I've always been a defensive guy," Mauro said from the Steelers' locker room. "I played middle linebacker in fifth grade all the way through 10th grade. I've always loved the physical nature of football -- physically punishing and out-willing your opponent. When I was growing up it really was the Steelers, the Ravens and the Patriots. Not much has changed, as you can tell. I grew up watching James Harrison, James Farrior, all of those guys, Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, so I know the physical nature symbolized in that Pittsburgh Steelers emblem on your helmet. I just hope to contribute and carry on what they've already established."

Listed by the Steelers at 6-6, 282 pounds, Mauro finished the spring as the third-team right defensive end behind Cameron Heyward and Brian Arnfelt. And Mauro believes he has a thorough understanding of his position.

"I've actually had a pretty easy time learning the techniques," he said. "It's just different lingo from Stanford, but a lot of the plays we run here we ran there as well. Our defensive coordinator last year spent some time up here. Derek Mason, before he took the head coaching job at Vanderbilt this year, spent some time up here with Dick LeBeau and the defensive staff trying to pick their brains a little bit. So we actually had verbatim plays at Stanford that we have here.

"As far as the learning curve, I haven't have very many issues with that at all. That being said, we haven't put on pads yet, so the physical learning curve hasn't even taken place yet. But as far as the mental goes, I would say I have a very, very good understanding of what we're doing right now."

Mauro was recruited to Stanford as a 4-3 end by then-coach Jim Harbaugh. Mauro sat out his first season with a redshirt and before his second season Harbaugh hired former Ravens defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to coordinate the Stanford defense. Fangio is currently Harbaugh's defensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers.

"Coach Fangio put in the 3-4 and we ran that the next four years," Mauro said. "So I played 5-tech, 4-tech and 3-tech at Stanford, very similar to what I'm doing now here in Pittsburgh."

Mauro was a seldom-used reserve for Stanford in 2010 before playing in all games as a reserve in 2011. In 2012 he was a key reserve "but our D-line coach said he considered me a starter."

Mauro finally started his first game in Week 3 last season and promptly recorded a sack and had a 25-yard interception return after dropping off into coverage. He finished the season with 51 tackles, 12 1/2 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, the interception and 2 forced fumbles.

He was invited to the combine, where he measured 6-5.7, 271 and ran a 5.21 40. He's been compared to Keisel because of his frame and competitiveness, but was considered too mechanical in his movements to be drafted. So Mauro was able to sort through several offers as a free agent and chose the Steelers.

"It's a very positive situation," he said. "Everything kind of happens for a reason with the whole draft process and where everyone lands and which teams reach out to you. So I think coming here is a great blessing and opportunity and I just want to make the most of it."

Mauro said that his former college teammate has reached out to him as well.

"Me and Dave hung out at Stanford and we've been able to get together and have a few meals together since I've been here," Mauro said. "I went to the shooting range with him one time. We've been able to hang out and I've been able to enjoy the camaraderie of an old and now a current teammate. He's great to have out here to kind of make the transition easier."

DeCastro, though, isn't one to soft-pedal his commentary. He didn't do so in the spring when asked about his friend's chances of making the team.

"Same as anybody's," DeCastro said. "The NFL's tough. You have numbers and stuff. I think with the pads on you can give it a better call. This right now is running around in your underwear. Guys can do really well here and suck at training camp."

Does DeCastro have any old war stories about Mauro that he can share?

"Nothing that you can put on the record," DeCastro said. "Josh was on the scout team when I got there. It's pretty impressive what he did. A lot of those guys came on and produced and contributed. They carried on the whole thing at Stanford. It was cool to watch the leaders emerge, and he was certainly one of them."

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