When defensive end Brian Arnfelt signed with the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Northwestern last April, he knew he had his work cut out for him. It's just the way things are in the NFL, where expectations are always high for draft picks and the road is often times bumpy for rookie free agents.
"You have to know coming in the odds are stacked against you but you have to believe in yourself," said Arnfelt. "If you keep working something is going to happen. As long as you have the talent and an opportunity comes available, you have to be ready. There is a lot of work when you come in as an undrafted guy, but you have to do it."
Arnfelt didn't make the Steelers 53-man roster when the season kicked off, but was added to the practice squad before week one. Week after week he went through the same routine. Practice all week helping prepare his teammates for the upcoming opponent, and then on game day just be a spectator. The expectations during the week are high, but the rewards of playing on game day don't come.
It never deterred him, though. Never discouraged the hard working rookie with the right attitude, always knowing in the back of his head his time might come.
"It's a long season, you never know day in and day out what is going to happen," said Arnfelt. "There is definitely some pressure that is on you, but you just have to keep working at it.
"It's what the coaches tell you throughout your whole time. It's all about working and trying to get better and when opportunity comes, you have to be ready. You never know when that is going to come. I think as long as you keep the mentality that it's going to come, you will be fine."
That opportunity came, even though in a small fashion, in mid-December when he was activated from the practice squad to the 53-man roster for the final three games of the season. He saw playing time against the Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers, but was inactive for the season-finale against the Cleveland Browns after Brett Keisel returned from an injury.
"I learned you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it," said Arnfelt. "Coming in here, being undrafted and finishing the season on the 53-man roster…that is any guy's dream when they come in. You learn if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish it."
This offseason will be the perfect opportunity for Arnfelt to set his mind on growing in the defense. Instead of coming in unfamiliar with the defense like he did last year, he will have a year under his belt and plenty of time to work on areas that gave him a problem.
"At first when you are thrown in there and the playbook is huge, it's overwhelming," said Arnfelt. "You take it play by play and just get it in your mind and you do it before you go to bed, when you wake up, in between. This offseason is going to be huge, especially getting feedback from the coaches on what I need to improve on, what they see from me and to have a whole offseason to work on those areas.
"I am going to take the offseason as it comes, workout every day, stay in shape and be as prepared as I can to come in for OTAs and offseason workouts and when camp comes around I will be ready to go."