If there’s anything that I’ve learned about sports fans over the years, it is that they always love an underdog, at least up until the point that they might actually be counted upon. As a group, the Pittsburgh Steelers fan base has certainly thrown its weight behind some pretty questionable talent in the recent past, though we’ve also done quite well with guys like Mike Hilton and Alejandro Villanueva.
I can’t think of a bigger ‘underdog’ story this offseason though than ‘tight end’ Christian Scotland-Williamson (number 49 pictured above), and I put tight end in quotation marks because he has never even played football before, let alone that position.
As you’re surely aware by now if you’re a regular reader, Scotland-Williamson is an international player awarded to the Steelers through a program the NFL runs. As an international player, he earns a roster exemption and will be permitted to serve as an 11th man on the team’s practice squad if they choose to retain him, though I believe it might restrict him from actually being signed to the 53-man roster while under that exemption.
Of course if he becomes that good they should just sign him to a regular contract. But we have a long way to go before we get anywhere near that conversation, and the English rugby player knows that as well as anybody.
He recently spoke to ESPN about his progress in transitioning and stressed how much of a change it was from rugby to American football simply because of the playbook, which he says is massive and has filled up his evenings trying to dissect.
He said that the team has installed “600 or 700 plays by now”, pointing out that “in rugby you don’t have nearly as much detail to learn because it’s not an intermittent game, there aren’t the same number of stops and starts so you can’t script as much”.
I don’t know much of anything about rugby, but Scotland-Williamson suggested that the positions he plays in the sport have some equivalence to NFL positions, including one that had him “used to calling a menu and running off a script of sorts”, yet added that “the depth of the [NFL] playbook is another level”.
It hasn’t always been this way, but the life of an NFL player has truly become virtually a 24/7 job, with the exception of extended periods of the offseason. They used to have other jobs in the offseason. Now they earn millions upon millions of dollars, but they work for it extensively, and are tasked with perpetually staying at peak physical and mental condition.
“It’s been a real eye-opener as when people watch on a Sunday, they might not think much goes into it”, the would-be tight end said at the end of minicamp. “But it’s a full-time occupation. The past five weeks have been up at 5:30 a.m. and in the facility for 6 a.m. and you read the playbook until you go to sleep, so it’s been all-consuming”.