Benny Snell takes nothing for granted.
Like catching his first pass from Ben Roethlisberger — a player 16 years his elder he grew up watching on TV.
Like being recognized at the mall as the Steelers' fresh rookie running back.
Like the opportunity to stroll into the Rooney Complex and suit up in the black and gold.
"I finally get to live my dream," Snell was telling me at his locker during Steelers minicamp at the Rooney Complex. "That's how I think about it. It's a full-time job and everything counts, when it comes to the reps, the quality reps, the film, the relationship with your teammates — everything counts. I always keep that in the back of my mind and I attack every day."
Behind that "attack mode," however, is one of the most likable, smiley characters inside the Steelers' locker room. I've had the chance to speak with Snell three times throughout OTAs and minicamp, and each time I catch myself smiling right along. Getting him on video is actually a challenge, because my natural reaction is to laugh along — not to keep a steady frame for the viewers.
That's just the vibe Snell gives, and it's one he says he's feeling in return from the Pittsburgh fans and the Steelers community at large.
"I'm definitely feeling the love," Snell was saying. "I feel like I'm real expressive and emotional when it comes to football. I feel like that's where I get the connection. It's definitely cool. Pittsburgh's shown me hella love."
That they have. Snell says he's already getting recognized in public, something that maybe could be attributed to the fact he's a 6-foot, 225-pound tank with a unique hairstyle. Or maybe the fans have done their early homework and can recognize a Steeler anywhere — even a rookie. Snell's feeling the latter option.
"I've been to the mall like one time, and people knew who I was," Snell said. "It was actually pretty cool. For it being so early and them knowing, that's how you can tell how hard of fans they are or how much they know. It was definitely big and it's all good vibes. I'm feelin' it."
In the end, though, Snell isn't getting paid to be an engaging personality. Sure, that may help him gain the fans' hearts and some lucrative endorsement deals along the way, but none of this matters if he doesn't produce on the football field. It's something he recognizes well, and it's a major reason he's leaning on veterans such as James Conner and the Steelers' coaching staff early on to get up to speed and to overcome any hurdles as early as possible.
"Whether I do a good thing or whether I mess up on a play, they're always right there giving me feedback," Snell was saying of the veterans' influence. "I'm always learning from them, each day, each rep, every film session with the coaches. And just getting to be around them and getting to learn off-the-field things with them as well, [it's huge]. They've been mentors. I look at them as my big brothers."
Earlier in OTAs, Snell said the NFL was "really fast," and he noted a massive leap in the mental processing and studying required to transition from his University of Kentucky playbook to the Steelers'. That, however, is becoming less of an issue every day — in no small part because of those film sessions and those chats with Conner and the rest of the squad.
"It's definitely slowing down," Snell said. "I'm starting to pick up on a lot of little things that matter. Formations are starting to hit and I'm starting to move fast. I'm starting to react like I'm supposed to be. It's all coming along. It just takes time."
Snell knows there's work to be done. Plenty of it. He's the rookie battling for position, with Conner the lead back and Jaylen Samuels presumably locking down the second spot on the depth chart. He's putting in the work, and he looks forward to showing what he can do in Latrobe.
But even now, that smile flashes again when I bring up Roethlisberger's name. Despite the stresses and the jockeying for a roster spot, Snell just can't help himself. It's cool to be in the NFL — and it's cool to work with a future Hall of Famer.
I'll let Snell take it away:
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