A few months ago, when Stefen Wisniewski signed with the Steelers, one of his first thoughts was how he couldn't wait to get to work with his hometown team, get to know his teammates and coaches.
Fast forward three months, and never in his wildest dreams would he have thought that wouldn't have happened yet.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, offseason programs for NFL teams became virtual ones, filled with zoom calls for meetings and players working out on their own.
While he has adapted like others, it hasn't been the situation he expected.
"This is definitely something weird and different because we have never done anything like this in football," said Wisniewski. "It's an adjustment. I am still learning the plays, going through the play install. I am learning the name of everything. I am learning the calls we make at the line. I am learning all of the lingo. It's just weird because it's not in person. I am not getting to know my teammates as well because it's virtual and not in person.
"It's definitely an advantage to be a veteran. It will be tough for rookies across the league to learn things virtually and then just show up and do it. I am sure there are still a few rookies who will be able to do it. It's definitely a big advantage being a veteran. I have been in a lot of different offenses. I have had five or six offensive coordinators in nine years. At the end of the day we all run the same plays. It's a matter of what you call it, how you do the little things differently. I am learning what the Steelers call it and I will be ready to go."
Learning the plays is one thing, something that a veteran like Wisniewski can easily do via a computer. But taking the next step is what is more of a challenge.
"I am not able to do drills with the guys," said Wisniewski. "Normally I would be doing drills with my coach and teammates, learning and working on the technique the Steelers use that are different than other teams. That is the biggest difference. At the end of the day, whenever we get back to work, I am going to show up and know the plays, but I won't have been able to have worked on all of those drills. I won't know my teammates yet. It will be different."
As an offensive lineman, getting those reps with teammates is something that you can't put a price tag on. The value is beyond compare. And that is what Wisniewski has missed this spring, from picking things up from Ben Roethlisberger to getting comfortable with his fellow linemen.
"That is the biggest drawback. It would be great to be out there running plays with the whole offense," said Wisniewski, who said group chats have been a huge help during the offseason. "Getting to hear the quarterback's cadence. Having conversations with the guys I am playing next to, how they take certain angles. Just building that camaraderie and trying to learn. At the end of the day you want to know what the guy next to you is thinking. The best way to do that is to get a lot of reps with them next to you. Unfortunately, we aren't able to do that at this point, which would be the time of OTAs. That will be the first priority for all of us. Our thought process on every play. The good thing is there are a lot of veterans on the line with a lot of experience. That will make it easier."
Wisniewski isn't sitting idle, though. While he might not be able to go through the plays with his teammates, or get first-hand instruction from the coaching staff, he has kept busy all offseason in preparation for when he can.
"I have been going to a local park and doing some running for conditioning," said Wisniewski. "I am doing some football drills by myself too. I am going through the plays, what the Steelers call, what I need to do on that play. But I don't have anybody to block so I am just blocking air. It's not quite the same as blocking a 300 plus defensive lineman, but it's good to get some muscle memory and brain repetition, just going through some of the plays."
He said sometimes the reaction by others in the park near his home in State College, Pa., can be entertaining, though.
"I do get some funny looks," admitted Wisniewski. "Maybe it's because it's social distancing, maybe because I am big and scary, but nobody has come up and said anything to me yet. But I am definitely getting some funny looks."
The workouts aren't limited to the park. He knows hitting the weight room is huge for his preparation, so he does that on a regular basis. Right in his house.
"I have a home gym. It's pretty well set up," said Wisniewski. "I have everything I would have in a normal gym. My training has been pretty normal, which is a huge blessing. I know a lot of guys don't have access to that stuff at home and that can be a huge disadvantage."
Everything he is doing, from learning the plays, to working out in the park and his gym, will all pay off when the team is back together again.
"I am excited to get started," said Wisniewski. "All I control is I am working hard, lifting weights, getting in good shape, learning the plays. Whenever we do go back, I know I will be ready to go. I will be ready to go at full speed."