One of the first things a rookie is handed when he first arrives with his team for the first time is his playbook. Not one that gives you a rundown of what life will be like in the league, but instead pages upon pages filled with plays, formations, tendencies that you are expected to know as well as the guy that lines up next to you, even if that guy is a 10-year veteran. Because if you don't, it won't just be you that fails, it will be the entire team.
The Steelers' top pick in 2013, linebacker Jarvis Jones, learned that last year. It didn't take long for him to understand that what is expected of you mentally in the NFL is just as important as the physical side of the game.
"We come in here every week and have to learn what we are doing and then you have to learn what the opposing team is doing," said Jones of the biggest adjustment as a rookie. "It's a lot of information. It's hard for a rookie. The mental stage is what gets us. There is so much to learn. People expect a lot out of you, they want you to do a lot and be productive. It's a process for the rookies.
"There was a lot of mental growth. People don't see the mental part of the game on this level. They just see the physical part, the big hits, guys outmuscling each other, but the mental part is so much tougher to grasp."
Jones faced his share of challenges on the field last year, including going against Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, who basically has seen everything teams have tried. For Jones battling him wasn't just physical, it definitely was mental as well.
"He has been there forever, he knows their system, he has been to the Pro Bowl, and he knows the techniques," said Jones. "He has seen all of the pass rushes. And he knows strengths and weaknesses. I am just trying to get the basics of it. That is the mental separation we have. I am going against him down after down and he got a step ahead of me technique-wise and all of that. He plays at the highest level of football and I am just getting there. That is the challenge we go through day to day mentally and physically.
"It's tough because everybody is good. You can't just show up without watching film and preparing. Even when you prepare your best it still doesn't always work out the way you hope it would. That is what makes the NFL great football."
Jones knows in order to take it to the next level he is going to have to use this offseason to its fullest, both in the weight room, film room and class room.
"There is always room for improvement," said Jones. "As much as you can learn, you have to take advantage of the offseason, know what to expect, prepare for. Taking advantage of the offseason, going over the things I need to learn. This offseason will be great for me to continue to learn the playbook and ask questions.
"I want to work on physical conditioning, building strength. The mental part I want to become a student of the game. I don't want to go out there and just play, but understand the game of football as far as formations and tendencies. This offseason I want to hone in on the mental part of the game so when game time comes I can look at the formation and know what's going on and not wait for somebody to tell me. It will help me play faster."
Jones weighed in on a few other things, from the 2013 season, to the pressure of being a number one pick and more.
View photos of Jarvis Jones's playing days as a University of Georgia Bulldog and as a Pittsburgh Steeler. (College photos courtesy of UGA Sports Communications)
On what he took away from the 2013 season:** "Nothing is given. Everything you earn in this league you have to work for it and fight for it. Nobody is going to give you anything. Our team is unbelievable how many great guys we have and that believe in being great. We started off 0-4 and locked shoulders and stayed focused and confident and were this close."
On the pressure of being a number one pick: "Everyone expected a lot out of me, having led the country in sacks and the accolades in college. That was college. This is the big league here. I just have to challenge myself. The one thing I did do well was not get down on myself because I didn't have the production I did in college. I just understand I have to work harder than I have been."
On being a part of the storied history of Steelers' linebackers: "It's a special feeling. It's a blessing to be a part of this linebacker group. When I got drafted here and reading about the linebackers and the great defenses here, to be a part of it is special. To go through a season and do everything a Steelers linebacker does, it's a blessing. I am proud, I love to be here. I love everything about this organization."
On if he was disappointed in his sack production: "I was. There were a lot of sacks out there I was capable of making that I didn't make. Those are the small details of this game of football. It's a game of inches. I was disappointed. It drives me and will be motivation for this offseason."