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A year ago the Steelers’ 2016 rookies were going through the same thing college players are experiencing now, the rigors and challenges of the NFL Scouting Combine.
While it might be the greatest opportunity for college players, the opportunity to perform and prove themselves in front of all 32 teams’ head coaches and general managers, it’s also a challenge.
Rookie linebacker Tyler Matakevich said he had some tense moments waiting for the 53-man roster to become final on Saturday. Matakevich, the seventh-round draft pick who was among those battling for a roster spot, was definitely breathing a sigh of relief on Monday, but knows there is still work to be done.
“I got the other genes.”
That didn’t stop the linebacker from Temple from collecting the Charlotte Touchdown Club and the Football Writers Association of America’s hardware awarded annually to the nation’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player (the Nagurski), and the Maxwell Club’s honor reserved for college football’s Defensive Player of the Year (the Bednarik).
It wasn’t that long ago that seventh-round draft pick Tyler Matakevich, the linebacker from Temple, was taking part in the team’s rookie minicamp. And like most of his fellow rookies, when he first hit the field, it was a bit overwhelming.
Standing on the sidelines is never easy. Just ask receiver Sammie Coates, the Steelers No. 3 draft pick last year.
After being the main man at Auburn during his college career, coming to the cheap Steelers jerseys and being a spectator for much of his rookie year was a challenge.
But it was a challenge he could handle because of the circumstances on the Steelers depth chart.
“I had no idea what was going on,” admitted Matakevich. “I was just running around.”
“Those are the most stressful few days of your life,” said Matakevich. “It’s a grind. You are constantly meeting with coaches, doing physicals, doing different things. You have to be mentally tough because it’s going to drain you. Looking back I am so happy I went because it was a great experience. While you are doing it you are so stressed out. Looking back I am very happy I had the opportunity to do it.”
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Having the eyes of every head coach in the NFL on him, just a short time before decisions would be made on NFL Draft day, definitely got the juices flowing.
“It’s surreal,” said Matakevich, one of the Steelers No. 7 picks last year. “Just to be in that position, being able to talk to these coaches, that alone was unbelievable.
“I met Coach (Mike) Tomlin and Mr. (Kevin) Colbert at the Senior Bowl. They were the only coach and general manager I met together. I talked to them for 10 minutes. Everyone talked about how cool they were and they were the only ones I talked to. I wanted to play for them. We were just talking about football, how I got to where I was today. It wasn’t awkward or anything.
Helping to keep the mistakes at a minimum are Matakevich’s teammates, who understand what it was like to be a rookie and are all willing to help out.
“All of them are helping me out,” said Matakevich. “When I am out there, I am out there with Steven (Johnson) and we piggy back off each other. Then having Lawrence Timmons around, you see how good he is and why he is a pro. I am trying to follow those guys to be like them.