Throughout Steelers OTAs, I heard the expression from players at various levels. Rookies face many challenges when coming to the pros, but the biggest by far, it seems, is the speed of the game. There was this from Vance McDonald when I asked him about his work with rookie Zach Gentry:
"Well, first off, the NFL is way faster than college,” McDonald was telling me after Day 2 of OTAs at the Rooney Complex. “But when you’re talking about a guy with that kind of size, obviously playing low to the ground is very difficult. Naturally, you want to run high and come off the ball, so that’s the first thing he’s going to have to focus on and think about, is staying low, playing low and playing fast. That’s really phase one for him.”
Then there was this from rookie Justin Layne:
"I feel like once I actually buckle in, buckle down a little bit, I'll play a lot faster," Layne said. "But I mean, it's still just a learning process."
Snell echoed these sentiments on Day 3 of OTAs.
"The game's, like, really fast," Snell said. "You just gotta be able to go at your own pace but you gotta be able to learn and get better every day... It's really about learning from each experience."
I'll admit: When I heard this narrative previously, I always thought the players referred to the literal, physical speed of the game. They run faster. They cut faster.
But the way Snell phrased his response above, I questioned that line of thinking. So I followed up with him for some clarification:
Not even the slightest hesitation in his response. The "speed" they talk about isn't NFL Combine speed; it's the speed of picking up the minor adjustments and play calls on the fly, adapting to each and every situation at hand without a hitch. Then, for rookies, add this into the equation: They're playing alongside veterans they looked up to growing up.
Snell, who was born in 1998, grew up watching Ben Roethlisberger, and he admitted it's a little strange to now join him in the huddle. But at the same time, he understands it's his job to perform, and that's exactly what he intends to do.
"Right now, I would say I just take it as a teammate thing," Snell said. "I don't really [have] time to look and be like, 'Oh, that's Ben!' I got things I gotta do. This is my job now. I take it all seriously, 100 percent. Hopefully one day I'll be able to sit down with him and chat it up, but it's all business right now."