Chad Spann was a standout running back at Northern Illinois University. He is entering his second year in the NFL following a tumultuous rookie season. We had a chance to talk with Chad last year before the draft, but a lot has happened in his NFL career since then. Chad was kind enough to take some time to follow up with us, and share some thoughts on his rookie season.
DLF – Thanks for joining us again Chad. How did your rookie year in the NFL compare to your expectations for your first year in the league?
CS – My first year was nothing like I expected. After making the 53-man roster with my hometown team, I had kind of figured that somehow we (the Colts) would have a good season and I would, at some point, be playing alongside Peyton Manning. A hamstring injury landed me on IR and then waived from the Colts and we all know Peyton was unable to play, so that dream was ruined from the start. Had a very short stint with the Buccaneers after they had a few injuries to running backs, but did get to travel with the team for their game in London…my first time overseas. Eventually, the Steelers called and I ended up playing my first professional game in the playoffs. Lots of ups and downs, but its been a great learning experience.
DLF – How is the hamstring injury coming along? Are you feeling fully recovered?
CS – My hamstring is fully healed now. Injured it in the first half of the Colts final preseason game vs. Cincinnati. It took about 6 weeks from then to be cleared to play ball again. I was told, however, that it would still affect me the rest of the season and it did. It wasn’t until about week 13 when I felt 100% again.
DLF – So far you’ve been a Colt, a Buccaneer and now a Steeler. Have you noticed differences in the organizations, how they approach giving you a chance on the team and the role they expect you to fill?
CS – One thing I learned very quickly is that every organization is different. There are big differences in front offices, coaches, and players from team to team. Each team seemed like they had a different idea on how they wanted to use me. In Indianapolis, I was used mostly as a returner and special teams player. In Tampa Bay, I was there to basically help with the scout teams and help prepare the defense. Pittsburgh was very different from both teams. As I was a big part in preparing the team for the games with the scout teams, I also spent a lot more time learning the offense and the special teams. When Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL, I had already been prepared to step in and play on special teams as well as in the offense.
DLF – How do you stay confident when you (like many other rookies) have experienced so many ups and downs in just one year?
CS – It’s a long year for all rookies. The NFL season is much longer than the college football season. It’s a grind. My offseason trainer and mentor Elias Karras (owner of EFT Sports Performance) first told me over a year ago that my path will be quite different then most rookies, but eventually, I’ll be fine. At every level, high school, college, and now the NFL, I’ve been overlooked. You kind of embrace it after a while and expect to overcome. Also, I’ve always been fortunate to have great people in my corner like my family, former coaches, and Elias.
DLF – Do you feel the strike-shortened training camp and pre-season had any impact on your transition into the NFL?
CS – I think it had an impact on all rookies, but especially guys like me who went undrafted. There definitely was a sense of urgency when it came to learning the Colt’s complex playbook on top of showing that I could run, catch, block, and be effective on special teams. Even with the shortened offseason, apparently I did enough to impress the staff in Indianapolis and I made the initial 53-man roster.
DLF – The dynamic between teammates is probably one of the more difficult aspects of intensely competitive team sports to appreciate. When Rashard Mendenhall went down with an ACL injury, I’m sure there must have been some conflicting emotions. How do you balance sympathy for and supporting a teammate, while looking to take advantage of an opportunity to further establish yourself on a team?
CS – You never want to see a teammate get hurt, especially a guy like Rashard, who has been nothing but helpful with my transition to the team and learning the playbook. Rashard is a great teammate and an even better person, but injuries are a part of the game, and this injury helped me get on the field. Bittersweet. I ended up seeing my first game action in the playoff game vs. the Broncos.
DLF – With the injury to Mendenhall, you’ll be competing with Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch, John Clay and Mewelde Moore to fill the void. How do you plan on separating yourself from the other backs on the team?
CS – All of those guys are very talented players. Also, they all have very different skill sets even though they are mostly the same size. I believe my speed and quickness is a good compliment to the style of backs that are already on the roster. So far this offseason, I have also been doing a lot of work splitting out at receiver and running routes trying to improve that part of my game…anything that will help set me apart.
DLF – What has been the most surprising part about being an NFL player?
CS – I’m not sure if I was surprised by anything. I had a lot of great mentors I trained with during the lockout who taught me a lot before I even got through the door. Tommie Harris, Johnny Knox, Jason McKie to name a few.
DLF – Who do you feel your game resembles the most?
CS – I’m not sure who’s game mine resembles the most but I do a lot of film study of Ray Rice. Another short running back with a similar build and skill set. So I guess that is what I am aiming for however we still do things differently.
DLF – Do you play or have any interest in fantasy football? Do your teammates talk about it much?
CS – I do play fantasy football. I was in three leagues this year and will probably be in more next year. I noticed that not to many of my teammates talk about it but we all know we play with our friends outside of the football. I hosted a league for a bunch of fans. It was a good time, but there’s no way I should’ve come in 2nd place with Aaron Rodgers, MJD, Greg Jennings, AJ Green, and Aaron Hernandez.
We’ll be rooting for Chad to have greater success next year in both the real game, and in his fantasy leagues. You can follow Chad on Twitter @cspann30 and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/cspann28.