Each faced the inevitable challenges of a rookie season and learning to compete in the sport at its highest level.
A year into their careers, each answered four questions about the past year:
What was the biggest thing you learned from your rookie year to right now?
“A lot (laughs). There’s a lot of better players out there right now. You have to learn and just keep working, keep working. I’m trying to get better every day. There’s so much you have to do off the field. You have to keep your body right, avoid the tiny injuries. There’s so much off the field like the weight room, recovery, nutrition and the meeting rooms. It’s good to see guys like Rob (Mathis) and Cory (Redding), they’ve been in the league 12 years. It’s a process.”
“I learned so much from the coaches, the players on the o-line and just from playing. The biggest thing is the physical learning curve is not as big a jump as it was from high school to college. From college to the NFL, it’s a mental and scheme learning curve. You have to focus more on the fundamentals. You’re not the biggest, strongest player all the time, but you don’t have to be if you play the game how it’s supposed to be played. Putting the last game behind you and moving on is something I learned. You can’t have 16 perfect games. You’re going to make mistakes. One thing I learned was to transition from game-to-game and leave the mistakes behind. That’s what everyone was talking about in learning how to be a professional. You learn the nuances of the game and how to transition. Learning how to compete at your best and taking care of your body is part of being a pro.”
“Getting acclimated outside of football and being done with school for the first time and being a professional, regardless of your occupation, is something you get adjusted to. Being a football player, there are more unique nuances that you have to get accustomed to.”
“The small things are important. It’s all about details at this level. Everybody is a professional, everybody is good, so it’s about the small things. You pay attention to the smallest details, and it’s how you handle it day-to-day.”
What is the biggest surprise you didn’t expect?
“Almost every game is close. Every team is good. There were a lot of games where you almost had heart attacks (laughs). Some teams may have a bad record, but they’re always in the games until the end. It’s not like in college where you can dominate. That makes it competitive every week.”
“There were a lot of surprises. One is that guys are just like me. We’re all playing the game. In college you looked at the guys and said, ‘Oh, they’re professional athletes.’ I do the same things they do. When you see guys in college, big tackles like Dontari Poe and J.J. Watt who are the face of the NFL, you’re nervous coming in, ‘How am I going to hold up?’ You get to practicing and playing, you realize you’re going to win some and lose some. If you get over the anxiety and play the game, you can match up with almost anybody.”
“I wasn’t sure what to expect from the locker room atmosphere. You expected a somewhat different dynamic from high school and college just because of the nature of the business. It was a pleasant surprise. We’re lucky to be in a good locker room. It made the adjustment a lot easier.”
“Everyone is a professional. You have guys who are freakishly athletic. They’re very good at what they do. Some of those guys you learn from. You try to catch on and do your best to be like them.”
What area did you surprise yourself pleasantly?
“You have to do a lot on your own, and I think I do a good job of taking care of things on my own. You have meetings and you learn from guys, but it’s not enough. You have to do way more at home to get better. It’s a 24/7 job if you’re trying to be great.”
“Just learning the play calls. There were more variables to it, longer play calls. The things involved with the play calls, you have to pay attention to them. I thought my mind would be whirling around the whole season. After my first preseason game, I found it was easier to play because you’d done things a million times in practice. You have to learn how to react, mind your technique and know your assignment and go out there and play.”
“I’m pretty excited about the work ethic and the routine I’ve been able to establish, getting my first year under my belt. I think that’s something I can carry with me the rest of my career.”
“Honestly, I don’t feel like I did too much, but I was happy to play a couple of games. I still have a lot of learning to do if want to move up and be better than last year.”
Are you surprised how quickly a year has gone by?
“It went by fast. You have ups and downs, you’re learning so much and that’s why the time is running fast. Entering my second year now, it’s just crazy. It’s ridiculous, and the off-season is almost half over. I’m looking forward to season two.”
“When the year was going on, it was the longest year of my life. There were things to overcome and deal with. To be here for year two, it’s crazy. I got here last May 9. It’s been a full year. It’s exciting. It gets me excited for the future.”
“It’s very fast, definitely a very fast year. Almost the busier you are, the quicker the year goes. There’s definitely a lot going on. It was a whirlwind of sorts. The transition from a bowl game to training for the combine to Pro Day to rookie mini-camp, it’s a long year. The off-season was a time to decompress, and I’m excited to be back.”
“Not being a rookie anymore is a good thing. I’m still trying to learn the little things, still learning to be a professional like the guys who have been here five or six years. There’s still learning to do, but it feels good to come back with a season under your belt.”