For most rookies the first year in the NFL is filled with growing pains, brought on by the challenge of learning a new offensive scheme, adjusting to football now being a job, intense competition on a daily basis and a laundry list of other things.
Mike Adams was no different than any rookie last year, when the second-round draft pick from Ohio State had his bumps in the road to deal with. But he came through it all relatively unscathed.
Adams got off to a bit of a rocky start when he was thrown into the fire in the season opener against the Denver Broncos after right tackle Marcus Gilbert injured his knee. His performance wasn't the stuff highlight films are made of, but it didn't deter Adams. It just made him stronger.
Adams once again found himself in the spotlight when the Steelers played the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 21, making his first NFL start with Gilbert sidelined with a knee injury. This time the results were different as Adams was part of a line that helped the Steelers gain 167 yards on the ground en route to a 24-17 win.
"A lot of the adjustments last year had to do with the mental game and getting comfortable with that," said Adams. "Plus it's getting used to everybody being great players. In the NFL everyone is the best of the best. Overall those were the toughest things. But I thought it went all right."
Just as his game was progressing Adams had a setback, suffering an ankle injury against Cleveland on Nov. 25 and wouldn't play again the remainder of the season.
"It was pretty rough," said Adams. "For me it was pretty devastating mentally. You watch your team practice every day and you want to be out there but you can't. You kind of feel isolated, especially after a couple of weeks. You are just watching the days go by wondering when you are going to feel better.
"You just have to keep your mind right and keep pushing to get that thing right. There isn't much you can do about it but try and get back. It makes you stronger."
Heading in to year two Adams is feeling strong and is back on track. He continues to work on the mental aspect of the game, as well as keeping himself in the best shape possible.
"For me it's about improving on everything, especially the little things," said Adams. "I need to be on top of all of my assignments from day one and being physically ready. Now I have an idea of what is going on and what to expect and I am really looking forward to it."
Adams is anxious to get to work with new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell when offseason workouts begin. Adams had the chance to get to know him prior to the draft last year and was impressed. His goal is to impress Bicknell enough to earn a starting spot, preferably at left tackle where soon-to-be free agent Max Starks started every game last year. But he is willing to play wherever he is needed.
"Starting is definitely where I see myself and that is my goal," said Adams. "That is something I am going to work really hard to do. Getting a taste of playing last year, this year I would like to be out there for all 16 games and through the playoffs.
"Everyone has a preference of where they want to play. I played left tackle all through college. Whatever side it is I am fine with. I just want to play some ball."
He is well aware the offensive line needs to improve from last year, especially to help the running game get rolling, and he sees that happening. He liked some of the spurts they had, but knows consistency is a key and it starts up front. A recent trip to the Pro Bowl for the line, courtesy of starting Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, was the perfect starting point.
"The camaraderie started to develop last year, and before I got here, but we have all had a chance to get to know each other outside of football now with the offseason," said Adams. "We are a close knit group, a great group of guys and we gel well together.
"We had a great time out there in Hawaii thanks to Maurkice. That was a great time to all be together. Not many guys do something like that for that many guys. I think that speaks volumes about how close we are and how much we care about each other for him to want us out there with him to enjoy it with him."
The trip also made Adams realize that next time he goes to the Pro Bowl he wants to be playing in the game.
"That is always a goal, All Pro and Pro Bowl," said Adams. "That should be a goal for every player. Everybody should want to be great at what they do. We should all strive to be the best."