Playing football is not exactly the most fun thing in the world. At least, it’s not for veteran Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, to hear him talk about it. the sixth-year former undrafted free agent was asked to scout his own performance so far this season, and he clearly only has an eye for one thing: everything he does wrong.
“When I assess my play, I always dwell on the negative plays, and I never dwell on anything positive”, he told reporters on Friday. “The only thing that matters to me is the next snap, so dwelling and bathing on this negativity before every snap and having a mental breakdown is somehow how I’ve learned to play football”.
Having a mental breakdown before every snap doesn’t sound ideal, but if it works, then it works. A quick run-through of everything that he struggles with is a way to remind him of what not to do, basically, and to avoid the mistakes that he is prone to make.
“I know that a lot of tackles do the same thing. I’m not gonna call them out by name, but shoutout to those mental sufferers out there”, he said—and I wonder how many of his teammates might have the same approach. “It’s just the way that you play”.
Villanueva even went so far as to draw from his experience in the Army to make comparisons between what it’s like to play tackle in the NFL and performing some of the tasks that he was required to do there. Basically, it doesn’t matter when you do well. It only matters when you don’t.
“It reminds me a little bit of jumping out of planes when I was in the Army. There’s just very little upside”, he said. “The best thing that can happen when you jump out of an airplane is that you survive. And then everything else that can happen is all negative. So playing tackle is kind of the same way. The best thing that can happen is that nothing happens, and then everything else after that is just a negative something of some sort”.
That’s why they say of offensive linemen that you’re probably having a good game if you don’t hear your name called. It’s a good position to be anonymous, because it means that you’re doing well, but at the same time, you also don’t much get singled out for praise.
With the increase in analytics and scouting, however, linemen are starting to get more attention. They still don’t really have ‘stats’, per se, though some outlets track, for example, pass block win rates, sacks allowed, and things like that.
Would he have any fewer mental breakdowns knowing that there were people out there who understand that he is doing well? From the sounds of it, no. it’s part of what makes him successful at his job in the first place.