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Shawn Lemon grateful, but ready, for his chance with the Pittsburgh Steelers

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Shawn Lemon had a successful career in the CFL, and although grateful for his chance in the NFL, he is ready to prove his worth to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Derek Leung/Getty Images

By Dale Grdnic

PITTSBURGH -- Outside linebacker Shawn Lemon knows all too well that a football career is difficult to get and even more fleeting once it's obtained.

So, as a 26-year-old in his first NFL camp after going undrafted from Akron in 2011, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Lemon had some advice for the younger players attended rookie mini-camp this weekend with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"If you ever want to get into the NFL, play football somewhere,'' Lemon said. "Go to Canada, an indoor league, anywhere professionally to work on your game. Someone will notice you and hopefully take a chance on you. An opportunity is all you need. Then, it's up to you to do something with it.''

Lemon must heed his own advice with the Steelers, who signed Lemon to a reserve-future contract after this past season and will give him a chance to make their roster after bouncing around between seven teams in the Canadian and Arena football leagues.

"Being a professional at a high level in Canada for three years helps your body get used to playing in this atmosphere. I'm just here with a bunch of rookies like me right now, but once we get going with the veterans over the next few weeks I'll be able to see where I fit in.

"Wherever that might be, I'm going to work hard to stay there. I think you have to be very athletic to play in the CFL, because the field's wider, and you pass rush a yard off the ball. So, the CFL is a very good league, and it can prepare you to get into the NFL.''

Lemon had a big season with the Calgary in 2014 with 13 sacks in 18 games and eight forced fumbles, as the Stampeders won the CFL's Grey Cup. The Steelers rarely give long-term deals for reserve-future contracts, but reportedly gave Lemon one for $1,582,500 over three years.

"I'm so grateful to the Steelers for this opportunity, but now it's up to me to take advantage of it,'' Lemon said. "I try to take my own unique approach to playing outside linebacker, but I've watched a lot of film on Cameron Wake, who came from the CFL.

"And I try to see some of the things that he does and some of the good things that I do and put them into one. My hats off to the D-coordinator I had last year at Calgary, Coach Rich Stubler, who had a defense very similar to playing outside linebacker (in the three-four).''

There are subtle differences for Lemon to pick up. He'll have to drop into coverage some and also stop the run at the point of attack.

"I actually had an interception last year with the Toronto Argonauts, so I'm pretty familiar with it,'' Lemon said. "Stopping the run is a little bit different, because in Canada we played a yard off the ball. But we've got a good coach in Coach [Joey] Porter, so I'm taking in all the good things that he's teaching me.''

Lemon also has a virtual coach on the field in veteran James Harrison, so the younger player can pick his brain.

"I started doing that about three weeks ago,'' Lemon said. "So, there's no problem there.''

Notes: One of the 17 rookies in camp on a tryout basis, defensive back Mario Rowson (6-3, 210) from Delaware, was injured Friday to end his opportunity. ... Former Akron defensive back Martel Durant replaced Rowson on the rookie roster. He got the call Friday night and drove to Pittsburgh for Saturday's practice. ... Sixth-round compensatory pick Anthony Chickillo joined the Steelers Saturday morning after graduating from Miami, Fla. Friday. ... No. 1 pick Bud Dupree graduated from Kentucky Saturday and will join the Steelers for Sunday's workouts. ... Former California University (Pa.) wideout C.J. Goodwin leaped several feet to catch a pass, was undercut by safety Alden Darby from Arizona State. Goodwin, who spent all of last season on the Steelers practice squad, landed on his neck, laid on the ground for several minutes and then walked slowly off the field.