First-year players benefit from minicamp


Over the last three days the Steelers rookie class sweated it out on the practice field, learning as much of the playbook as they could and putting it to work during five minicamp practices.

They weren't alone though. Also taking part were the Steelers first-year players, and for them, the second time around was definitely better than it was a year ago.  

"I definitely came a long way," said linebacker Howard Jones, an undrafted rookie a year ago who spent the 2014 season on the practice squad. "I knew a lot more plays than I thought. It felt good to get back out there. I felt like I had an edge.

"I feel like I came pretty far. I do know I have further to go, and a lot more to learn and work on."

Rob Blanchflower felt the same way last year when he took part in rookie minicamp. The tight end that was taken in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft feels like he has made definite progress over the past year.

"Last year I was stumbling all over the place trying to find my way," said Blanchflower. "It's good now trying to help everybody out and letting the rookies know where to be and try to get everyone in the same direction.

"It's definitely a big difference. I am more comfortable. I spent a year in the system, know the coaches, know the guys, and know the offense. It's definitely a big jump for me."

Wide receiver C.J. Goodwin didn't have the advantage of rookie minicamp last season. He was an undrafted rookie free agent, but not signed until June 4, missing out on the first few weeks of rookie activities. So when he first arrived, he definitely felt like he was behind.

"Last year it was nerves more than anything," said Goodwin. "Everything was moving so fast. This year it's a lot slower and I know what's going on so that's an advantage."

All said they saw a little of themselves in the rookies as minicamp progressed, and did their best to help them through the struggles.

"You get kind of nervous," said Jones of the rookies. "You think you know it and you probably don't know it. A lot of people write something down, but you have to perform it out there. As long as you slow yourself down and know you can do it, you can do it."

The biggest benefit for the first-year players was just getting back to football work again. None of them have put on a helmet since the final practice of the 2014 season, so it was good to get back in the swing of things.

"My cheekbones are hurting a little bit, but it's all right," joked Jones after wearing his helmet again. "It was a little hot, but it's cool. I have been doing it forever. It feels good to use your muscles now. You have been lifting, working out in the offseason so it feels good."

It also gave them a little jump before OTAs begin later in May, allowing them to brush up on things so they are ready to go.

"It felt great to play football again," said Blanchflower. "There is nothing like actually going out and playing the sport you love. To be able to put a helmet back on is the first step to be back playing the game you love again."

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