Javon Hargrave doesn't mind admitting it. When he took the field in his first regular season NFL game, against the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football, there were some jitters. * *
"That Redskins game I was nervous. I can't even explain it," said Hargrave. "It was a good nervous. It's something everybody goes through their rookie year."
It didn't take long for that nervous feeling to subside, though. After a few snaps, it was just football again, and Hargrave settled in.
But it still took some time to make the adjustment to the NFL game, to get comfortable with the speed, with the defense, with everything.
"To be honest, that moment for me was the Miami loss," said Hargrave of the Steelers Week 6 game. "We lost the game, but I started to realize the game wasn't as hard as I was making it. I made a lot of plays that game. It just made me more comfortable in the system. It was the plays I was making. Being able to make plays gives you so much confidence. I grew with it."
It was a growth the Steelers needed. Hargrave, the team's third-round draft pick out of South Carolina State, stepped into a starting role early on at nose tackle and was relied upon more and more as the season progressed and injuries left the team thin on the defensive line. When Cameron Heyward went on the reserve/injured list with a pectoral injury, Hargrave knew there was no choice. He had to step up.
"When Cam went down, that is one of our leaders," said Hargrave. "If I didn't step up, that would have been a problem. I had to grow in the film room and at the position.
"There was no pressure. As an athlete you love that opportunity to show what you can do. I just felt like it was an opportunity and I couldn't let it slip."
Hargrave started 13 of the 15 regular season games he played last season, as well as all three postseason games. He recorded 27 tackles and two sacks in the regular season, eight tackles and one sack in the postseason. He also recovered a fumble in the end zone against Cleveland (11/12) for his first-career NFL touchdown.
Hargrave said he could notice the growth as the season went on, something that came with playing experience.
"When you play as many snaps as I did you have no choice but to grow," said Hargrave. "I kind of know what the league is about now. Not all of it, but I know some of what the league is about.
"You have to be a professional at all times. If that's taking care of your body on and off the field, you just have to be a professional and be willing to learn and take the information in."
This offseason Hargrave has plenty of time to take care of his body and prepare for the 2017 season. Unlike leading into his rookie year he won't be pulled in a lot of different directions, and he also now knows what to expect from an NFL season.
"Just being able to know what is about to happen is always great," said Hargrave. "I know how to prepare and be ready for what is going on. It's definitely easier this year. I don't have to go through the Combine, play in college bowl games. I can train and find a way to get better."