Justice Says Knowing What's Expected will Help in Second NFL Season
INDIANAPOLIS – Steve Justice has seen this before.
Justice, who eventually developed into one of the top centers in college football while playing for Wake Forest University, said before that happened he was an underclassman concerned over the typical college football worries.
Meeting new people. Fitting in with new teammates.
Impressing new coaches. Learning a new playbook.
Justice, now preparing to enter his second season as a guard/center with the Colts, said just as he faced those issues in college, he and other rookies face them in the NFL.
And just as he overcame them in college, he said they can be overcome now.
"It's scary," Justice said recently during the Colts' 2009 organized team activities, which concluded early this month at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
"It's a big culture shock. It's your job now. There's so much more riding on it. You're not given the four years, the way you are in college. I can see how the second year is a big jump. You're comfortable. You know the coaches and know what they want you to do.
"You have the offseason and you're on their plan, doing what they want you do to. You're able to build that confidence."
Justice, a sixth-round selection by the Colts in the 2008 NFL Draft, said that confidence began to build last season, particularly early.
That was when he got most of his rookie playing time.
Justice, who played both guard and center as a rookie, was active in the first seven games of the season, and against Jacksonville in September at Lucas Oil Stadium, he made his first career start at left guard. He did not play the next eight games, but played right guard in the season finale against Tennessee.
Justice said if the transition to the NFL was tough, making it without getting extensive playing time was tougher because he was used to exactly the opposite in college.
"It was hard," said Justice, who started every game in his final three collegiate seasons and played every snap as a redshirt sophomore. "At the beginning we played a ton, because of the preseason games, then after the Jacksonville game" – he snapped his fingers – "I didn't play until the Tennessee game and I was inactive for a few of the games.
"It was tough going through practice, having to remember everything, be on cue and practice with the team, then to be on the scout team . . . to then stand on the sidelines is hard."
Justice said he also spent his rookie season adapting to playing two positions. Whereas in college he was an All-America selection focusing on one position – center – in the NFL he said he takes the same approach as the one taken by most of the Colts' offensive linemen: that their position actually is several positions.
"If they ask what position, I'll say, 'center/guard,' but I play offensive line,' Justice said. "That's how we all are. We're a little family within a big family. I haven't played guard since high school, but that's how it is here. You have to be able to play both positions."
Justice said what began as a major adjustment is now helping him develop as a player.
"I remember coming in last year," he said. "It was in minicamps and they put me at tackle. I'm like, 'I haven't played tackle since my junior year of high school.' They just want to make sure you're able to do everything. The more you can do, the better it is for you. Just being able to play both positions is good in the long run.
"It's getting more comfortable. I was used to always having the ball in my hands. I was used to playing center, but to have to learn center then guard for me was tough. Then, to be able to switch the play in my head if I was playing right guard, left guard . . . I think in my second year it's coming a lot easier.
"Now, it's just getting techniques down and remembering it faster."
Justice during the 2009 offseason began experiencing back troubles, and Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell during the team's organized team activities in June announced that Justice had undergone a procedure to address the issue. But before that, Justice said the experience gained as a rookie – even if he didn't get as much of that experience late in the season as he hoped – had helped him prepare for his second season.
And he said it should help him be far more prepared this season than he was in his first.
"I think it just helps me in the sense that a lot of people think I'm a smaller-type guy," Justice said. "Being able to get a little experience shows that I may be smaller, but if given the chance, I can still perform at a level that is adequate. Being able to go in early was great, then the last two games were an awesome experience.
"Everybody gets their shot. When it's your time, you have to show them what you've got. I'm just hoping this year's my shot."