When you follow the NFL, regardless of team, you hear a lot about rookies who came into the league thinking they were ready, both physically and mentally, for the pro game, but after their first season realize they were anything but prepared.
Maybe it was their conditioning, or maybe it was the emotional drain of a full 16-game season, likely for the first time in their football careers. Nonetheless, the first time they experience their first true taste of the professional game is at Organized Team Activities (OTAs), and sometimes it can be a truly eye-opening experience.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers top two draft picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, T.J. Watt and JuJu Smith-Schuster, they spoke with Steelers.com about their first week in the proverbial trenches.
How different is football in college compared to the pro game for Smith-Schuster? As it turns out...a lot different.
“It’s a lot different,” said Smith-Schuster. “The tempo is faster. Everyone is faster and smarter on the field. I am learning a lot. Just with these past few days, I am learning so much information that will help me along the way. Coach (Richard) Mann is a great coach. Everything he has been teaching me has been working.”
The speed and temp is tremendous in the NFL, but staying focused is also a challenge for many players. Trying to remember the new playbook, your responsibilities and still taking in everything the coaches are telling you can be a challenge for even the most polished rookie, and T.J. Watt is learning the tricks of the trade.
“You don’t want to get overloaded with information yet,” said Watt. “You want to absorb as much as you can, but not get overwhelmed.
“You have to be smart about your studies. You have to take study breaks, it’s just like school. I will go back to the hotel, study my plays, take a break, and do it again. This is my job now. So it’s my job to get that playbook down. There’s no excuse not having it down.”
Watt hit the nail on the head for the biggest change from NCAA to NFL. It is now their job. No longer do they have to go to class, study hall or meetings with professors or advisers. Now, football is their job, their livelihood. Some take this more serious than others, but those who are truly successful put the work in the ensure the are successful on the field.
In Pittsburgh, both of these players will have tremendous role models to look up to in this regard. Watt will be watching the greatest outside linebacker in team history, James Harrison, still perfecting his craft on, and off, the field. While Smith-Schuster will see Antonio Brown and his tremendous work ethic, which often gets overlooked by the mainstream media, and will have an ideal match to demonstrate what it means to be successful.
The success of these rookies could determine a lot of the overall success for the Steelers in 2017, and OTAs are just the beginning.