At the end of the 2015 season, Alejandro Villanueva talked about his first year playing in the NFL and what some of the challenges were. Confidence was right there at the top of the list for him, more accurately his lack of confidence.
At the end of last season, it seemed like that wouldn't be an issue, that confidence wouldn't even be a second thought for Villanueva, who started every game at left tackle.
Villanueva said that confidence was an issue, especially early on, but it's something that continues to develop and grow for him.
"I still have a lot of confidence issues," said Villanueva. "Especially starting the season off. I don't think the team knew if I was going to be a starter. It was tough to deal with. Seeing the first team take reps without me. Second guessing myself. You see there is a disparity between what the team thinks of you and what you think of yourself. That is challenging.
"When I started the season it was a little bit difficult to get myself back to that starting role. Preseason was stressful for me. I was mentally exhausted. This is a very competitive environment. They are always trying to get the best out of everybody. I have a very fair coach in Coach (Mike) Munchak, who only wants the best for the team and is very team-oriented. He pushes everybody to get the best out of them. That didn't change from last year.
"I am fortunate to be in an organization that offers so much to a player. From that aspect I have the confidence that if presented with a challenge, I can overcome it."
Villanueva credits those around him with his development over the last two seasons, including Munchak and his fellow offensive linemen, in particular Maurkice Pouncey. Villanueva said Pouncey brings invaluable leadership to the group, even using his days as an Army Ranger to draw a comparison.
"There are very good leaders inside that offensive line room," said Villanueva. "I think there is a way equating my relationship with Coach Munchak and Maurkice Pouncey as Platoon Leader, Platoon Sergeant. Pouncey is the Platoon Sergeant of the offensive line and Coach Munchak is the Platoon Leader. Coach Munchak can say how to block a play, your responsibilities and assignment. He is going to say it in a very soft voice and he is going to say it once. He is going spend all of the time teaching you how to do it, but it's going to be Pouncey who makes sure you get it done and yelling at you if you mess it up. It's a very similar dynamic to the military and I think that's why it's so effective."
Villanueva realized this year what kind of impact Pouncey can have on the offensive line, and the team as a whole. Last year he went through a season with Pouncey injured. This year, Pouncey's presence was felt and then some.
"Having Pouncey on the field is huge," said Villanueva. "It's almost like in the French Revolution, the guy carrying the flag. That is what Pouncey is like. He is an inspiring, intense player that cares about winning. It's contagious. I am influenced by him and his desire to win and be better."
It's not just on the field where Pouncey's leadership shines. He hosts a weekly dinner for the offensive line, and any other offensive teammates, where they gather at his house to eat, spend time together, and watch film. It's something that has great meaning to Villanueva.
"I personally have taken it for granted," said Villanueva. "It's probably my favorite moment of the week. Even better than the game itself. I think everybody on the offensive line would tell you that. He has everything open for us. He is generous. He cares about everyone on the offensive line. He has cared about me from the moment I got here. He loves everybody in his own way. He has a different relationship with everybody. Pouncey cares about every member of the offensive line.
"The dinner is a hallmark and moment for each of us to enjoy the time we have with each other and enjoy our friendship, which is valuable."