The smile on Tyler Matakevich's face was a tell-tale sign of how he was feeling.
After what seemed to him like an eternity, the annoying sling that had become a part of him, was gone at last.
"For five weeks your arm has been stuck at your hips, stuck at your side, and you're not moving it," said Matakevich. "Once you are finally out, you start doing little stuff you couldn't do before, things as simple as scratching your head. It's a huge lift for me mentally.
"I keep raising my arm higher, reaching new goals. Seeing it get better every day, it makes me want to work harder. The more I improve, the more I want to do. That is how I am. That is how my motor is. I just want to make myself better and the people around me better."
Matakevich underwent surgery on his left shoulder after the season, and has spent the vast majority of the offseason working with the team's athletic training staff at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on his rehab. The progress continues on a daily basis.
"It's coming along great," said Matakevich. "Everyone wants to be fixed overnight. It takes time. I am here almost every day getting better. Doing my exercises here, my therapy here, and at home. I am doing everything I can to be 100 percent, if not better.
"I see some of the guys that had it done last year, and they were able to do OTAs and training camp. That is my goal. I want to be 100 percent by OTAs. I want to be even better by training camp. That's my goal."
The surgery was the result of a shoulder injury that initially occurred Week 6 of the season against the Kansas City Chiefs. It would limit how much Matakevich could contribute on defense, but he could still be a key factor on special teams.
"It first popped out against Kansas City, but I played through it because I wanted to," said Matakevich. "I was definitely hesitant the first few games after that. Once it pops out it's vulnerable to keep doing that. It's like anything else like that. It's going to continue to happen. I was hoping it was going to stay in. It's tough when you are thinking about tackling somebody. The next game we played Tennessee and I ran down and made a tackle on special teams and got back up and it stayed in. I was excited. But it was a mental grind."
Things went relatively smoothly for Matakevich, until the Week 13 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Ryan Shazier went down in the first half with a spinal injury, and Matakevich was called upon to take the reps on defense. He thought he would be fine, but in the third quarter the shoulder popped out again.
"When Ryan went down and I went in, I was hoping it would hold up," said Matakevich. "I thought I have to step up. I didn't want us to lose a beat. I thought I could come in and pick up where he left off. That is the mentality you have to have. It's tough when you are in the position with one shoulder. But I still wanted to contribute.
"The shoulder didn't hold up. In the third quarter it came out, and that's all she wrote. When I came off the field I knew it was out. It was very frustrating. You work your whole life to get here, the blood, sweat and tears, and to know there was nothing I could do to keep it in was frustrating. But that is life. You have to continue to move and get over the hump."
Despite the recurrence of the injury, Matakevich wasn't packing it in.
"I told everyone I didn't want to get shut down," he said. "I wanted to do whatever I could. I knew I could still play special teams. I knew I would be fine on special teams.
"I love the game of football. Football is like my life. I felt like one shoulder wasn't going to stop me from playing. You would have to drag me off the field. That is how I have always been. I felt even with one shoulder I was still productive on special teams. I was still making plays, had a blocked field goal.
"It was a little bumpy road, but I was willing to do whatever I could to help this team."