Chickillo takes the next step

A year ago, Anthony Chickillo was going through what this year's rookie class just went through. From dealing with the NFL Scouting Combine, to the NFL Draft, and then rookie minicamp, he experienced it all.

And to say it was a learning experience, from the beginning of minicamp to the end of the season, is an understatement.

Phase Two of the Steelers offseason workout program is underway.

The linebacker learned what life in the NFL is like, every aspect of it, from the good and the bad.

The reality of it all hit early on when he was released from the team on the final cut down day before the regular season, signed back to the practice squad a day later, and then eventually brought up to the active roster a few weeks later.

It was a whirlwind that opened his eyes up to what taking that next step in football is really all about.

"I didn't know I was going to get cut, but they made a business decision and that's part of it," said Chickillo. "I'm just happy to be here. I like being here. I want to be here as long as I can."

The learning didn't end there for the Steelers' 2015 sixth-round draft pick. Chickillo came to the Steelers after playing defensive end at the University of Miami and had to make the transition to outside linebacker in the Steelers 3-4 defense. So not only was he adjusting to a completely different defensive scheme, he was adjusting to a new position.

"There was some, maybe not doubt, but you're not used to that, you're out of your comfort zone," said Chickillo. "Learning a new position was the toughest thing for me. I was out of my comfort zone, not having done it before in college. I hadn't played since little league, playing standing up.

"There were different things I had to do, just playing in space, dropping in coverage. Those are things I didn't do in college. I was strictly hand in the dirt, playing more like a defensive tackle then an outside edge rusher. So that was a learning experience for me."

Phase Two of the Steelers offseason workout program is underway.

Chickillo relied heavily on others for help, from defensive coordinator Keith Butler, to fellow linebackers William Gay, Arthur Moats and Ryan Shazier. But it was the tutelage of linebackers coach Joey Porter, the two working in tandem, that made the transition go smoothly.

"He explains things always so we can understand," said Chickillo. "He makes it simple for us so we can understand. He is just a great motivator. He makes you really want to play hard for him because you don't want to let him down. He's been huge for me overall and for me learning how to play outside linebacker. I learned that I can play in this league."

And, yes, there was another adjustment to life in the NFL for a rookie, especially playing special teams. Most draft choices never played special teams in college, some not even in high school. It's something completely foreign to them, or at best a throwback to when they were kids.

"I hadn't played special teams probably since little league either," said Chickillo. "(Special teams coordinator) Danny Smith taught me how to play it in the NFL. He taught me the right way to do everything."

With his rookie season behind him, Chickillo is now focused on taking the next step. He is participating in the team's offseason workouts and already looking forward to OTAs that begin later this month. 

"You try to get your body where you are almost indestructible," said Chickillo. "That's the goal every time I go in the weight room. I just want to be ready.

"Last year it was all an adjustment. I went from playing every snap in college to not playing and then playing on special teams. I knew my role this year and I just wanted to execute it. This year I want to try to expand my role. I'm going to do everything I can to ensure that. And when we get back to Latrobe it'll be time to prove that I can handle a bigger role."

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