CHARLOTTE — While NFL emphasis this weekend is on the combine, Marshall McFadden is looking ahead to next season.
A year in the NFL — especially the roller-coaster-like year that McFadden had with the Pittsburgh Steelers — has McFadden confident moving forward.
“I see myself as a 53-man roster guy now,” McFadden said. “I’m going to have to be on that 53-man roster if I want to stick around. So I’m going to take everything I learned this year and continue to work on it and get better so that I can maximize my chances of making that roster.”
McFadden was brilliant at times during his career at South Carolina State. But he also battled injuries. Twice he had seasons ended due to injury — something that allowed the Lamar native to hang around Orangeburg for a sixth year with the Bulldogs. He went undrafted in 2011 — the year of the NFL lockout — and went unsigned through that season. In January of 2012, the Steelers signed him to a reserve contract.
He led the team in tackles in the 2012 preseason with 18, but was cut heading into the regular season and quickly signed to the practice squad. When linebacker Chris Carter went down with an injury, McFadden was called up from the practice squad for the team’s Week 11 game against Baltimore. He recorded one tackle, was cut following the game, and signed back to the practice squad.
He saw action in one more game, Pittsburgh’s Week 17 win over Cleveland, but did not record a tackle. He was inactive, due to an injury, for the team’s regular-season finale.
McFadden said he handled it all — the call-ups and cuts — well.
“(Steelers coach) Mike Tomlin tells us not to get caught up in the numbers,” McFadden said, referencing the fact that he led the team in tackles in the preseason. “The NFL is not a numbers game all the time. Sometimes you have to go with what you need. We were carrying a lot of linebackers, and with me being the young guy ... I don’t care how well I played, they had to go with what they needed. But, I showed that I was a promising guy so they gave me a shot to stay on with the practice squad.”
He may have handled it well. He may have understood. But McFadden said he is spending the summer in Charlotte, working out at Velocity Sports, to ensure that he puts himself in the best position to make sure he sticks for good this season. He said he will spend four days a week working out at the facility.
“But you try not to kill your body,” he said. “It is a long season.”
The 6-foot-1, 233-pounder’s confidence is evident when he talks about next season. A good reason for that — he said — was he now not only knows he can compete physically, but understands what it takes mentally to play in the NFL.
“You have to be smart to play this game,” he said. “You have to be physical and all that stuff. I played at S.C. State and coach Mike Adams and coach (Buddy) Pough taught me a world of things. That is one of the reasons I got to where I am today. But the NFL is different. There is a lot of stuff I had to learn on my own. It’s totally different. If you know where you are going and where everyone else is going, you will be successful in the NFL.”
McFadden, who said he signed a two-year contract with Pittsburgh at season’s end, is excited about the Steelers’ potential next season. And, while he is confident, even if things don’t go the way he envisions, he said he could not be happier about his time with the team.
“Being a part of a first-class organization ... I don’t think you can ask for anything better,” he said. “Just being around that for a whole year is something I will cherish for the rest of my life, even if I don’t play another down of football.”