This offseason had the potential to be something very different for tight end Pat Freiermuth.
In the season finale against the Cleveland Browns at Acrisure Stadium, Freiermuth suffered a knee injury, one that knocked him out of the game and sent him to the locker room.
At first, he thought the worst.
But in time, he got the news he had hoped for.
"I went down, and I heard something," recalled Freiermuth. "I definitely thought the worst and I was praying that it wasn't. And I'm happy that it's not.
"I'm very lucky that I dodged a bullet. I'm happy there's no surgery and it's just a sprain and so a month rehab and I'll be good.
"Obviously the first month and a half of the offseason is just getting your body back and then getting back to your base level. So, I have to continue to do that and take some rest. But with rehab, that's kind of my rest, just rehabbing my knee and then go from there."
When he does get back to work, Freiermuth has his sights set on even more growth than what he went through the past year. From his rookie season in 2021 to this past season, he had only three additional receptions, 60 to 63, but his yardage increased significantly. In 2021 he had 60 receptions for 497 yards, an 8.3-yard average, while in 2022 he had 63 receptions for 732 yards, an 11.6-yard average. However, he had only two touchdowns in 2022 compared to seven touchdown his rookie season.
The bottom line, he wants all those numbers to increase.
"I saw a lot of growth in different areas of my game," said Freiermuth. "If I took a step forward, it was in my run after catch and the number of targets I saw and the yardage. Obviously, I wish that I had more touchdowns and I wish that I put together blocking more throughout stretches instead of little increments.
"There's always room for improvement. That's part of being a professional athlete. They get paid on the other side too and any time you're competing against someone else, you have to bring your best. If you're lacking one day, it's going to show up big.
"It's never enough. You can never be satisfied with staying level. If you become complacent, you're going to get jumped by someone behind you or you're not going to have the career you want to have. That's how I was raised. I was born to always look for room for improvement and never be satisfied."
Like the rest of his teammates, looking for improvement was an area of focus last season. After starting the season 2-6, every player looked inside themselves to do what they could to help turn the season around, and they did. The person Freiermuth credits the most with the turnaround is Coach Mike Tomlin.
"It's a testament to Coach T and all the coaches for continuing to believe in us and continuing to see the goals were still in front of us no matter how we started," said Freiermuth. "And it was a credit to the guys in the locker room, the leaders in the locker room for keeping us together. We just had to start stacking wins. Coach T explained that to us and the concept behind that we really bought into.
"The thing about Coach T is he never wavers. When we were down in the dumps early in the year, most coaches would be freaking out and running with their heads cut off. Coach T didn't do that. He was consistent, the same person every single week, every day since I've been here. That's what you look for in a coach because it gives you a sense of calm that things may not be going well on the field, but he still believes in you and believes in getting the train turned around. It's just ihuge to have someone believe in you like that."
There were other key factors Freiermuth pointed to as well in helping with the turnaround in 2022, including the return of linebacker T.J. Watt, who missed seven games with a pectoral injury early in the season, and the progress quarterback Kenny Pickett made as he gained experience.
"Having T.J. back helped a lot," said Freiermuth. "He raised the level of competitiveness on the defense and that carried over to the offense. Kenny and the offensive line did a great job managing the game. I think Kenny did a good job of making plays when needed. The progression of the o-line throughout the season, we were able to run the ball and it's going to be hard to stop us when we get Najee (Harris) running downhill and then creating explosive plays in the passing game.
"We were a young team in the beginning of season. I think we grew up fast and I'm excited for the future of this organization and the future of this team."