Rookie LB Tony Steward didn't exactly have the highest of expectations heading into the NFL draft. He knew with two ACL injuries in his college career that most NFL clubs wouldn't risk a high draft pick on him despite a killer pro day. So he resolved to largely ignore the 2015 NFL draft, and things fell right into place.
"I went down and visited my agent and had my girlfriend with me and we really just stayed busy all day," Steward told Buffalobills.com. "We didn't even watch the draft and in a fit of perfect timing we went back to his office to check in with one of his assistants and as soon as we sat down is when I got the call from the Bills. We kept ourselves busy, but when it happened it was an awesome moment for me and my girlfriend, my agent and my family."
Steward, Buffalo's first of two sixth-round picks, was still a bit shocked he was an NFL player at last weekend's rookie minicamp. Though he dreamed of being a professional football player from the time he was a young boy, the reality had yet to sink in.
"I didn't expect Buffalo," said Steward. "I didn't talk to them much during the draft. We tried to set up a (pre-draft) visit, but it fell through. So I wasn't sure there was a lot of interest or not. On draft day it was pretty awesome."
Now Steward has set his mind to mastering Buffalo's defensive scheme and for the rookie minicamp he lined up at both inside and outside linebacker at times. His height (6-1) would indicate to some that he's a better fit inside, especially in a 3-4 scheme, but Steward's overall athleticism would lead most to believe that he can cover the ground necessary to line up outside.
Buffalo had Steward clocked at 4.64 on their watch. Some clubs had him even faster for his pro day 40 time. A 34 ½-inch vertical, nine-foot seven-inch broad jump and an impressive 29 reps on the bench proves despite his injury setbacks that he has the measurables to make plays at the NFL level.
"At this level everything is a lot faster," Steward said. "You've got to learn it a lot faster. I felt for the most part I'm catching on pretty well. The biggest thing is to just clean up the mistakes that I made and not make them again."
As for playing inside instead of outside linebacker, Steward has no issue with the differing responsibilities.
"I've played inside a good part of my life in football. It's something I'm used to," he said. "I'll take on a lineman every day. It's a mindset. You've got to be tough, you've got to be fit, you've got to know what you're doing so you can play fast and you've got to be physical. As long as you can do your job it doesn't matter."
Knowing more linebackers are likely to stick on Buffalo's roster this season as opposed to last season with a lot of 3-4 defensive principles planned for 2015, Steward is encouraged about his chances to prove he belongs on the 53-man roster. He's also boosted by the fact that only four linebackers on Buffalo's roster have NFL game experience.
"I'm encouraged," said Steward. "The numbers make you feel good about it. You've just got to get the defense down and then you have to play in such a way where you make them make the decision. That's how I see it."