In just a few weeks the Steelers will take the field for OTAs, the first big step in their offseason program. In addition to all of the newcomers to the roster this offseason, there will be one player in particular that many eyes will be on, cornerback Senquez Golson.
Golson, the Steelers' No. 2 draft pick in 2015, missed the entire season after suffering a shoulder injury during the team's offseason program last year.
Phase Two of the Steelers offseason workout program is underway.
But a year later, he is ready to go and for the team it's like having a bonus draft pick this year, a young player they haven't seen a lot from yet on the field, but are anxious to see develop.
"We are excited about getting Senquez Golson back in the mix," said Coach Mike Tomlin earlier this offseason. "I think often times he is forgotten about. We were excited about him a year ago when we drafted him. I still share that same level of excitement. I can't wait to get him back on the field."
Golson feels the same way. He can't wait to get back on the field, to do what he loves to do.
"It's time for me to crank it up full speed," said Golson. "After they released our schedule, it motivated me even more. I started dedicating myself 100 percent to football. We know the schedule, know the opponents. It's time to go to work.
"I can't wait for everything, for OTAs, minicamp, training camp. I am definitely ready to get out there. I need the reps, I need as many reps as I can. That will help me get that normal feeling back."
It was a tough year for him, being sidelined, watching his teammates practice and play, and adjusting to the NFL as a spectator. The feelings, let's just say they were anything but normal.
"At first when you are injured, you kind of go through the phase of where do we go from here," said Golson. "Then you could say most rookies hit the rookie wall. My rookie wall was a little bit different. You could probably call it depression as far as trying to figure everything out. I had to figure out ways to get better off the field. I had to figure out Pittsburgh on my own. I had help and support from the coaches and the staff, but you come in and aren't playing. I never reached out for the help. I think my rookie year, I am glad it happened. I got to see a lot of things. I think I would have missed some of that if I had played."
For Golson, a player who when he first arrived in Pittsburgh last year said, 'I could play football every day,' was suddenly facing the reality of not playing for a year and it wasn't a welcome feeling.
"It wasn't a good feeling," said Golson. "I have never been away from the game. To sum it up, it was like a bad divorce for me.
Phase One of the Steelers off-season workout program is underway.
"It was very different for me. On top of that, for a couple of weeks to a month and a half I couldn't move my arm, do things by myself because I had shoulder surgery. I wasn't on the field and at one point and time I couldn't do the things I am used to."
Golson said a turning point for him came the night before his surgery, when he was going through notes that he oftentimes writes in his phone. He came across one that simply stated, 'Challenge Accepted.' He thought back to when he was 17-years old and drafted by the Boston Red Sox and turned down a $1 million signing bonus because his love for football was stronger than baseball. He realized then, he could face anything.
"It woke me up," said Golson. "I looked at it and said I have already overcome the biggest thing I had to overcome turning down $1 million at age 17 to play football instead of baseball. I thought for a while, did I make the right decision. It was never a regret, but always a thought. I felt like that was the biggest thing that I had to overcome in my life. A lot of people turned their back on me. I knew if I overcame that, I could overcome anything."
Golson said when he does hit the field, he has to show that he isn't the same player he was when he left college. Despite not playing last year, he has to show that he has improved.
"That is my main goal. To be better than I was before I came out of college," said Golson. "Some people wonder how it's possible without me ever playing a down. I don't know how it's possible, but that is my goal. I am scared to let a day go by without getting better because I know what is expected of me. Every day I have to attack something in my game, whether it's mentally or physically, because I understand the expectation."
And his expectations for himself, simply to be a player who makes a difference in helping the Steelers to their ultimate goal, winning a Super Bowl.
"I will do whatever they want me to do, and do it the best I can," said Golson. "I just want to play football. Whether it's covering kickoffs, playing defense. Whatever they ask me to do.
"I want to be the next Ike Taylor, be the next Troy Polamalu, be the next Will Gay. Somebody that is here for a while. I want to get to the point where I am getting better every day and I want the coaches to look at me as a guy who is going to be here for a while. I want to be somebody the coaches can count on.
"I have one job, and that is to get the ball back to Big Ben (Roethlisberger) as often as I can."