Perhaps the most difficult position for a rookie to find himself in is being sidelined with a significant injury. This is especially the case for a late-round draft pick or undrafted free agent, and is exactly the situation in which 2017 seventh-round pick Keion Adams found himself last August with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The outside linebacker out of Western Michigan—now reunited with two of his former teammates in tackle Chukwuma Okorafor and running back Jarvion Franklin—suffered a shoulder injury following the first several practices at training camp. He didn’t even get into a preseason game before then, and spent his rookie year on injured reserve.
He will take the practice field today for the first time since his injury, looking to lock himself into the fourth spot on the outside linebacker depth chart behind T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, and Anthony Chickillo. He would have had a hard time making the roster a year ago with James Harrison and Arthur Moats still on the team, but the Steelers are now thin at the position.
Adams wasn’t thinking about his injury as being fortunate last year, though, even if it might have spared him from being released. He was thinking about how to deal with this new situation that he had never had to face before. “It was discouraging” to suffer that injury and have to go through it during his rookie year, he told the team’s website.
“I never had a major injury before, so I didn’t know how to handle it. Talking to John Norwig, Coach Porter, and Coach Tomlin, and the guys in the locker room, it’s something you have to prepare for because it’s football. Nobody goes through this game unscathed or without a bump or bruise”.
What helped him the most, he said, was listening to the advice of his teammates, particularly though who had been through it before. Among them was Sean Davis, who played through a shoulder injury during his rookie season that had to be surgically repaired in the offseason.
“Getting advice from guys, guys like Sean Davis who had shoulder surgery like I did, they told me just stay focused, stay around the team, and make sure I don’t get lost in another dimension by not playing”, Adams said.
The biggest psychological challenge of dealing with an injury in professional football during the season, though, is being robbed of the game and of sharing it with your teammates. Which is why it’s so crucial for a team to have a strong internal network to help prop up players who find themselves in such a position.
“It bothers anybody who loves the game and wants to get out there and play” to have to sit and watch. “It was kind of discouraging, but the guys kept me up, kept me a part of the family. They made it easier for me. I had rehab every day, saw the guys, uplifted my spirits and made me feel better”.
And now he’s ready to get back out there and join them on the field. General Manager Kevin Colbert said that he had been cleared from his shoulder injury after about five months, which would have been toward the end of the season, so he is more than ready from a physical standpoint.