Jaylen Samuels knew last season was going to be different than what he had experienced in college.
He knew there would be changes, coming from N.C. State where he was used as a little bit of everything – receiver, tight end, receiver, fullback and even a little running back – to the Steelers where he would primarily be a running back as James Conner’s backup, where his skills would be used differently.
It was a change, but a change he welcomed with open arms.
“That is what I wanted,” said Samuels. “I knew coming into the league I was going to play running back. I didn’t play running back in college, but I knew coming into the league that was going to be my position in the NFL.
“I knew what came with the job, what I had to do with pass protection, the physical side of it. I was watching different stuff on film. I started looking at what type of coverages they run, the pressures they bring, stuff like that, what type of front they are in. Adjusting to that was a key. Changing my game from a receiver to a running back, that was the biggest transition I did. I feel like I did pretty well with it. I knew what came with it, I was ready for the task.”
The task wasn’t a small one. Not by a long shot. As a running back he was now being asked to do different things, which included blocking linebackers instead of what he had become accustomed to.
“I was blocking defensive backs and safeties,” said Samuels. “I was always split out. I didn’t have to block anyone inside the box. Trying to block a 240-pound linebacker vs. a defensive back is different. It’s all about technique.
“It started off bad. As I worked on it, got reps, did backs-on-backers in training camp, I got better. It came from the reps, from OTAs, and camp. I am still learning, still improving, trying to get better. There is still a lot of room for improvement. The games, I did pretty well, pretty solid. I just have to work on techniques. That is what I am doing this offseason, getting stronger on my punch. I just have to work on that and keep improving.”
It’s not as easy to do as it sounds, though. A first NFL offseason is one filled with adjustments. In college, the ‘offseason’ was a structured one. Leading into the draft, it was nothing but preparation for the NFL Scouting Combine and workouts. But until he hits the field for OTAs in May, a lot of the work is just pushing yourself.
“Doing it on your own is a challenge,” said Samuels. “How you attack it depends on how great you want to be. It’s tough. But when I work out I work on my craft every day. Not every day is pass blocking. Some days are speed, some are power, some my football craft.
“I work on blocking drills on my own. Keeping my base square. Do drills to keep my feet in place so you can have a base when you make contact with somebody. Working on hand punch. Just getting upper body strength up.”