For any player showing up to their first NFL camp, it’s easy to have that deer-in-the-headlights feel. This is the big league after all. New system, new scheme, new coaches, new teammates, new placement of the bathrooms. Everything is different.
Magnify that ten-fold for Pittsburgh Steelers’ tight end Chistian Scotland-Williamson. Not only is this first exposure to the NFL, it’s essentially his first exposure to football.
Scotland-Williamson is a former rugby player trying his hand in the NFL, scooped up by the team as part of the NFL’s International Player Program. That will create a roster exemption and 11th practice squad spot for him to take a “redshirt” year. The funny thing is that this isn’t a new idea to the NFL or Pittsburgh. I remember when WR Marvin Allen was on the Steelers’ practice squad a decade ago as part of a similar program.
Back to Scotland-Williamson. He’s gotten his first taste of the NFL after rookie minicamp and full week of OTAs, where every Steeler – sans Le’Veon Bell – was in attendance. As you’d expect, there’s the obvious things to adjust to, as profiled by the Trib’s Chris Adamski Monday night. But there’s plenty of things that wouldn’t immediately jump to mind either, like learning to put on his equipment or change how he catches the football.
“Rugby balls are bigger, so it’s actually easier to catch, and how you are taught to catch in rugby is slightly different to here,” he told Adamski. “If you try to catch that ball like (a rugby player), the ball just goes through your hands. And then over-the-shoulder catching is new, because in rugby you can only pass backwards.”
At 6’9 275, the Steelers opted to try him out at tight end under the tutelage of James Daniel, a man who has been coaching in the NFL for 25 years.
Another adjustment to the game in general is the pace. Rugby is a fast-flowing game like basketball but even less-scripted and gameplanned. Compare that to the NFL’s glacier-like script, each even carefully scripted out as much as possible.
Scotland-Williamson will also appear on the upcoming series NFL: Undiscovered, profiling his journey from rugby to the NFL. Though that may make some think he’s giving the NFL a shot for 15 minutes of fame, he insists his heart is in the game.
“That’s the thing: You can’t dip your toe into this. I have left rugby behind. You can’t come in to such a competitive environment thinking you are not going to succeed because you might as well not do it.”
Expectations should be reasonably low for his first year. But if he can show some flashes in camp, potential of what he can unlock in the following years, there will be reason to get excited.