Scotland-Williamson keeps charging forward

Dale Lolley has covered the Steelers since 1993 as a beat writer and is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio.

Late in the 2019 season, Mason Rudolph lofted a pass down the sideline at the UMPC Rooney Sports Complex indoor facility to a receiver streaking down the sideline, a defender in tow.

On this occasion, the defender had no chance.

The throw was a perfect one, just high enough over the hands of the defender that he had no chance to knock it down. The only player who was going to catch it was the receiver, in this case, tight end Christian Scotland-Williamson, all 6-foot-9 of him.

The defender had no chance as Scotland-Williamson hauled in the 30-yard pass, much to the delight of the first-year tight end's teammates.

Scotland-Williamson was still beaming about the play following that practice.

"You saw that one?" Scotland-Williamson said with a big grin.

Yes indeed.

It was a play the native of the United Kingdom probably wouldn't have made in his first season with the Steelers, when he spent the 2018 season on the team's practice squad as part of the NFL's International Pathway Program. The 2018 season was all about just making it through practice to get to the next day for Scotland-Williamson.

"In 2018, sometimes it was just survival and trying to keep pace," Scotland-Williamson. "But I wasn't really able to show what I can do because there was so much other stuff going on in my head. Now, I'm able to play a lot faster."

Though blessed with great size, the 273-pound Scotland-Williamson didn't play football as a youth or in college, at least not American football. He played some soccer growing up in the UK. But his real love was rugby, which he played at the professional level.

And while rugby players are expected to catch the ball, catching the much larger rugby ball is different than catching a football.

As part of his crash course training, Scotland-Williamson had to learn how to catch the ball all over again.

"We're taught to catch it a different way because we have to pass the ball, as well," Scotland-Williamson said of the rugby ball. "We catch the middle of the ball. If you try to catch the middle of the (football) when it's coming that quickly, it's going to go right through your hands. It's been a lot of mental retraining to try to catch the front of the ball and frame the ball as opposed to clamping down in the middle and expecting to pass it again. I'm definitely making improvements in that regard. I just keep pounding away and making sure every day I try to get a little better." 

It's working.

As part of his training through the International Pathway Program, Scotland-Williamson spent 10 weeks in Florida at the IMG Academy before joining the Steelers at their rookie minicamp in 2018. But that 10 weeks of training was just teaching him the basics.

He had a lot of catching up to do to get to the level of teammates who had been playing the game 10 years or more. But the 26-year-old is narrowing the gap.

"Ten weeks of training, which was literally a crash course in 101 football. I got here and you realized that 101 football was really 101 football," Scotland-Williamson said. "Now, looking back, it's amazing how much I've learned in a year. But also, I was happy with what I was able to do last year given that limited knowledge."

The Steelers have liked what they've seen in his improvement. And if Scotland-Williamson can make a similar jump from his Year 2 to Year 3 as he did from Year 1 to Year 2, who knows? Perhaps the former rugby star will get an opportunity to make a catch like the one he had in that late season practice in a game.

Maybe at that point, he'll be able to step back and reflect on how far he's come. Until then, however, he's just keeping his nose to the grindstone.

"It's still going on really, if I'm honest. It hasn't really been one moment. It's still going on," he said of the realization he's close to playing in the NFL. "I've been more noticing where I left in December (in 2018) to where I was at in April and how I was able to improve. I spent a lot of time learning the playbook and watching film, getting my mental reps in, which should allow me to show more about what I'm able to do. I think that's the biggest thing I'm happy about. I didn't leave in December and come back exactly where I had been. I made a big jump forward in the offseason."

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