There was a certain quality to the way that T.J. Watt carried himself during the offseason of his rookie year in 2017 that gave you confidence that he was going to be alright. Sure, he may have had the benefit of the insight his older brothers already in the league provided, but he was also new to his position.
Through it all, he had an air about him that was at once confident and unassuming. There was a humility and respect for the process of growing as a player when he spoke, yet you could tell that he believed in himself and his ability to reach his goals.
I get that same sense from, frankly, each of the Pittsburgh Steelers top three players from the 2018 NFL Draft class. The first-round pick, Terrell Edmunds, also has the benefit of having family ties in the NFL, both past and present. The other two have the benefit of coming into the NFL together.
Second-round wide receiver James Washington and third-round quarterback Mason Rudolph have both impressed me with the manner in which they have carried themselves so far, again, respecting the work that goes into getting better but all the while knowing that they will put in that work and will achieve the desired end results.
“I had a few mental errors, but that’s a rookie for you”, Washington told reporters during the first week of OTAs, adding that he is getting better each day. “I am just watching the veterans and learning, getting mental reps”.
For Rudolph, he talked about his own struggles. He ended up working with Matt Feiler at center, who’d never snapped before, but he shared the blame for the botched exchanges. “It’s on both of us”, he said. “I wish we could have ended on a better note. We’ll get it right. We still have a lot of centers filtering through. We’ll get on the same page”.
Again, it’s the acknowledgement. I made mistakes, but I can tell you now, those mistakes will be eliminated. As Washington told reporters, “I don’t really ask many questions. I try to learn that way I don’t have to be told over and over”.
Meanwhile, Rudolph is taking his queues about what it means to be an NFL quarterback from observing Ben Roethlisberger and Washington is doing his best to keep up with Antonio Brown’s pace at wide receiver.
All of this really recalls last year with Watt. We watched him all year round. Every part of the offseason, we waited to see if he would finally get tripped up and struggle. Instead he kept up the pace, continuing to make progress, and he ended up starting.
Obviously Rudolph is not going to start, but he could attain the backup position. Washington is pretty much already earmarked for the third wide receiver role behind Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. But they both seem to have the mindset that could set them up for long and successful careers.