Steelers rookies embarked on Day 2 of the team's virtual rookie minicamp on Saturday, and the most important aspect for all of them is getting an understanding of the playbook while they are working from home.
"Going through an experience like this I think it's just a matter of time, how much you can soak in from the coaches," said safety Antoine Brooks, the team's sixth-round pick from Maryland. "It's how much can your brain absorb, a lot of information from the coaches and can it stay there."
His former Maryland teammate, and now current Steelers teammate, Anthony McFarland also knows that picking up the playbook is the most important aspect of what has become an odd offseason due to restrictions because of COVID-19. McFarland knows that they can't fall behind just because they are learning on their iPads instead of in person, and he is doing his part to make sure he stays on top of everything.
"I don't see it as behind. Ultimately everyone is in the same boat, you can't do too much," said McFarland, the running back taken in the fourth round. "Everybody is doing virtual. I don't see it as being as behind. Being in the NFL they expect you to still come into camp, know the plays, know where you are lining up. At the end of the day you can't fall behind. You really can't fall behind. I don't look at it like that. I feel like everybody is in the same boat across the league. You have to get in the playbook every day, not just in meetings, but after meetings.
"I have been going out by myself and just going over things and studying a couple of plays. The first install, just going over the little stuff. Each time I am getting an install I go outside by myself and try to run and execute it and get reps."
Physical workouts aren't what they would be if the players were at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex with the team's coaches and strength and conditioning staff. But all of the rookies are making the most of the situation they are in.
"I am able to do a lot of stuff," said Brooks. "I work out at any field around my home, around Maryland. There are a lot of old fields I used to play on that I work out on. My weight room hours are a little short. My cousin was always into lifting weights and I go to his house, just me and him, and try to work out there. I try to get in a little extra.
"Honestly this is just another challenge. I take almost everything as another challenge, and I have to step up and move on. It's just I try not to think about it a lot. I just try to work out, do it and learn the playbook."
A normal rookie minicamp schedule would entail the players doing install of the offense or defense, and then going out on the field and putting things into play. Both Brooks and McFarland are following that path on their own.
"I work out every day right after rookie minicamp," said McFarland. "I get my work in. I do a lot of cardio. My whole thing is the coaches tell me you have to come in in the best shape of your life. That is for all of the players. That is all I focus on. Getting out there on the grass in cleats and running, getting in shape, ready to play football. I am lifting too. But more running."
As they go through their first NFL minicamp, they are learning a little bit more about what their role is going to be when the team gets back on the field. For Brooks, it's mainly about safety.
"They have let me know a lot of things," said Brooks. "I think it's primarily safety. We have talked about a lot of positions. But primarily safety.
"They are sending me information about certain positions one by one. I am just ready to contribute to the Steelers, play for them. I am ready to play on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays."
McFarland said he hasn't gotten specifics yet on his role, just that be ready to know everything, including special teams.
"We are just getting started, with Day 1 being (Friday)," said McFarland. "It's hard to tell you where my expectations are. But I feel like we are going to have to come in and know everything on the special teams side of the ball, offensive side of the ball. That is how I am going to approach it. That is how any football player should approach it. I have to learn it all. For me personally my expectations for me, that all has to be hard work, get in the playbook and study.
"I think (special teams) is important. Being a rookie coming in I don't have a choice. If you love football you want to find anywhere to play. I am looking forward to that. At the end of the day it's football."
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O Canada: Steelers quarterbacks' coach Matt Canada is someone who is familiar with McFarland. He was the offensive coordinator for a season at Maryland when McFarland played there, and the young running back can't wait to be reunited with him.
"He is one hell of a coach," said McFarland. "One of my favorite coaches I ever had. He left a big, big, big impact on me when he left Maryland. He showed how he cared, not just on the field but how he cared for us off the field. Always checking up on me, making sure I am doing the right thing, coaching me up hard. I like that. When a coach coaches you hard, which Matt Canada does, that means he wants to get you better. It's about the way he coaches. He just wants you to get better. I think guys in the room will gravitate toward him. He is always positive. That is what I love about Matt Canada. I am super excited to be around him and pick his brain because that guy knows a lot."
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Numbers game: McFarland will wear No. 26 for the Steelers, the number that was worn by Le'Veon Bell. He said he initially wanted to wear No. 25, but Brooks is wearing that since it was his college number. He said wearing No. 26 means something to him as he was always a fan of Bell's game.
"I have always been a big fan of Le'Veon Bell," said McFarland. "He has always been the best running back in the league to me. When I was in high school, he was always a top back in the league. One of my favorites. Thinking about numbers, I wanted No. 25, but I know Twan (Antoine) wanted that number so I took No. 26.
If anything it would be that I look up to him, I idolize him. I watch his game I study his film. That is somebody that has been a great back in the league for a long time."