“Bleep! I forgot my mask, I gotta go back home and get it!” is something I never thought I’d ever be saying as recently as a month ago.
“Bleep! I can’t figure out how to get into this Zoom meeting, Coach is gonna kill me!” is something I’m sure no Steelers rookie ever thought he’d be saying about his first days as a professional football player.
Imagine being a Steelers newbie and engaging in your first rookie “mini-camp” in a virtual setting, where meetings aren’t immediately followed by on the field application—all you have are more meetings. Yes, a lot of people can work from home, and that’s fine if you already know how your job works. But learning the “installs” of your first professional football team’s offensive or defensive playbook during a virtual meeting has to be akin to learning how to play your first guitar with the help of a YouTube video.
“I want to get a good grasp of the playbook after this,” said rookie receiver Chase Claypool of his rookie mini-camp experience, courtesy of Steelers.com. “Obviously you can’t get the whole playbook in a few days. Just a good grasp on the concepts, the terminology. That is what I learned today, those basic things, and we are going to progress as days go on.”
It’s a familiar sounding way to go about business for anyone who has ever had to endure a week’s worth of online training before heading into the office to truly begin their new job—but it’s got to be different for your average NFL rookie.
Sure, even in a “normal” job, those things you learn through online training only take you so far, and you don’t truly begin to get your feet wet until you get out there in the field and start doing it. But NFL OTAs and rookie mini-camps are filled with meetings, followed immediately by field work to see how quickly or how well a player has grasped what he just learned. And if it’s evident that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, believe me, his new boss will remind him of that.
“It’s definitely different. We have a couple of different websites that we use to get in and out of meetings that has information and stuff,” Claypool continued. “They were able to supply me with an iPad that has some of the basic terminology and stuff, but not the entire playbook. It’s kind of hard to dissect it that way. That is what this rookie mini-camp is for. It’s definitely a unique experience.”
There you go. In addition to grasping their new playbooks, these rookies also have to be tech savvy enough just to log on and find their materials. Fortunately, since we’re all products of our era, I’m sure it’s much easier for a person in his or her early-20s to adapt to work-life in a virtual setting (regardless of his or her profession) than it is for someone a little older who never had to attend a Zoom work meeting in their entire life.
Still, though, it has to be a whole different kind of pressure for an NFL rookie. How do you know you’ve got this new playbook down until you get out there and do it?
And in terms of working out, these guys are essentially on their own with regards to staying in tip-top shape until they can finally join their new team.
Athletes are used to structure and being told what to do and when to do it. Now, they’re in charge of their own discipline? That might be much easier for a veteran who knows what it takes to be a professional. But discipline doesn’t come naturally to everyone—it often has to be learned over time.
In terms of preparedness, this class of rookies might be behind the proverbial eight ball more than any in recent Steelers history—or the total opposite of the advantage Pittsburgh’s rookie class enjoyed 46 years ago. Hall of Fame receiver Lynn Swann once talked about the 1974 players’ strike that occurred during training camp. The rookies weren’t a part of this and got to attend camp. As Swann put it, by the time the strike ended and the veterans returned, he and his fellow rookies felt like it was their camp—perhaps it’s no surprise that so many of them made the team and contributed heavily to Pittsburgh’s first Super Bowl title.
Finally, imagine being drafted by an NFL team. You picture getting the phone call, hearing the commissioner announce your name and then going up on stage to receive your new team’s cap and jersey. Anyone can imagine that based on years of following the draft.
As for the football part of it, thanks to his college experience, a player might have a pretty decent idea of what his first interaction with his head coach will be like, and how his first practice session will probably go.
But who could have imagined all that has transpired since mid-March?
In terms of what these rookies may have imagined of their first NFL experiences vs. the reality of it, this has to be how the 2001 Patriots felt as they prepared for Super Bowl XXXVI. Not only did they get just one week to enjoy the build-up, when it was finally time for the individual starters to be introduced prior to kickoff, coach Bill Belichick insisted that the entire team run out onto the field as one.
In terms of challenges, the Steelers 2020 rookie class is in uncharted territory.
It’s going to be interesting to see who adapts and who suffers.