Rookies arrive, get settled in

Thursday afternoon at the Steelers' practice facility was reminiscent of the first day of school, when new students arrive, backpacks in tow, meet their classmates, get seat assignments, are introduced to their teachers and get excited about the opportunity and challenge ahead of them.

In this case, those students were Steelers' rookies, including draft choices, free agents and rookie tryouts. Some of them had been to Pittsburgh before, but others were here for the first time.

As they arrived, each was handed a checklist of required stops, ranging from the athletic training room, to the equipment room for a helmet fitting, and getting a head shot taken for media relations purposes.

Once settled in and given a locker assignment, they spent time in the locker room shooting pool, playing ping pong and getting to know each other, before gathering Thursday evening for a team meeting.

It's all part of the first day on the job for an NFL player.

"It set in when I got fit for my helmet and went into the locker room," said safety Shamarko Thomas, the team's fourth-round draft pick from Syracuse. "It definitely has set in now."

For some, though, it is still setting in. It might take putting on a helmet and practice gear, or stepping foot on the practice field during the weekend minicamp, for it to hit home for everyone that they are now members of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"The past week has been interesting," said linebacker Jarvis Jones, the No. 1 pick from Georgia. "It's been fun. It's been a great experience. I am enjoying it, I am still excited. I don't think it hit me yet. I am a professional now. It's a great opportunity."

For free agent center Ivory Wade from Baylor, taking the field on Friday will be special because he will be competing in his first NFL practice on his 22nd birthday.

"It's great," said Wade. "It's a gift to be here. I am real happy about it. I just want to get to work and see what I can do.

"The past week has been crazy. It's a lot of stuff to take in. I am still trying to get used to it. I don't think it's settled in yet. It all happens so fast. I don't know how to describe it. It's a great feeling."

The big advantage for the rookies with this minicamp vs. the one that team holds in June is no veterans will be attending. It's strictly rookies and select first-year players.

"It's a great opportunity to know what is going on, know what I need to do to prepare for the start of my career," said Jones. "It's a chance to come in and learn, see how the coaches coach, the different techniques, learn the playbook, get comfortable with them and them learn my style of play. It's a great opportunity to grow closer and see what we need to work on.

"And the timing right after the draft is perfect. This is a great opportunity to be a part of this organization."

That opportunity kicks off Friday morning with first practice of minicamp, the first time they will be wearing the black and gold.

"To get on the field and get an opportunity to play for the Steelers is great," said Thomas. "It's a blessing. It's a great opportunity.

"This here is reality."

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