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Let the hitting begin

Posted Jul 28, 2014

Today, the pads go on, and that means players will be tested to a degree they haven't so far this year

LATROBE, Pa. – If Ryan Shazier is destined to be tested, to be initiated, to be targeted and subsequently welcomed into the NFL based on his status as a No. 1 draft pick, guard David DeCastro will have no part in such a conspiracy.

“I’m not into all that,” DeCastro, the Steelers’ No. 1 pick in 2012, maintained. “I just play football. We’re going to play the game and be fair between the whistles. That’s the way I like to play football.”

That’s the way it was done during DeCastro’s first summer at Saint Vincent College, when he showed up as the newcomer with buzz and brought with him the hype and pedigree that accompanies all No. 1 selections.

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” DeCastro recalled. “Guys are playing football, nothing too crazy, nothing too exciting. Everyone’s very professional, just playing football.”

Defensive end Cam Heyward (first round, 2011) sensed the game had changed in his first professional training camp, but not because of his draft status.

“I think it was more anxious on my side,” he said. “Everybody’s going to get tested on the first day to see what you’re all about, what you can do. But you can’t really do anything until the pads come on.”

Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons (No. 1, 2007) has a different recollection of what that first camp as a first-round pick was all about.

“Of course you’re going to have a star on your back,” he said. “(Shazier) is going to see how our O-line is. Our O-linemen, they play hard and tough every time. He’s going to have a lot of confrontations with them. We’re going to see how he handles it.”

The pads come on today for the Steelers, and the action on the practice field will ratchet up accordingly. Shazier needs to be ready for that, Heyward maintained, much more than he does any sort of traditions or rituals relating to No. 1 picks.

“It’s going to be faster,” Heyward said. “It’s not going to be OTAs. There’s not going to be any room for mistakes. He’s got to be ready to go. It’s going to be a big jump. You can’t make the same mistakes twice.”

Nor can you make every play.

DeCastro emphasized realizing as much and learning how to deal with that reality of NFL life was essential in his development.

“It’s such a different game,” he said. “I can remember maybe one or two times I got beat my last year in college, I vividly remember them. In the NFL, it’s not if it’s going to happen, it’s when it’s going to happen. The margin for error is so much smaller. It’s just a whole different ballgame.

“You have to be, not physically, but mentally prepared for how to deal with it and how to approach things. Bad things, tough things are going to happen to you. If you can be a resilient and consistent player, that’s the key.

“It’s tough to learn after you’re used to kickin’ butt the whole time in college, and then all of a sudden the playing field is completely level. You’re fighting uphill rather than shooting downhill on people.”

Already, Shazier has impressed DeCastro, among others, during the offseason’s Organized Team Activities and minicamps.

“He’s fast, he’s quick. Geez, he’s athletic. We saw it a lot in OTAs,” DeCastro said. “We’ll see when the pads get on, because that really tells the tale. I’m excited, though. I’m excited for this defense. I’m excited for this camp just to see how everything gets going.”

Shazier showed up publicly expressing eagerness and readiness. How he feels after today and subsequent practices in pads will paint a more revealing picture.

“Confidence goes out the window once practice starts,” Heyward said. “I hope he keeps it, but if that’s all he’s got we’re in for a rude awakening.

“But I expect him to do well.”

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