Exclusive with David Paulson, Steelers Tight End, 2012-2014

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First, let us know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your time in the NFL?

I’m working for a credit union now. I’m back in Seattle where I grew up. I started here a few months ago.

How tough was that transition from the NFL to life afterwards!

It’s going pretty good now but it was tough at first. My whole life I was kind of like, used to training and being a part of a team. Then you’re done suddenly and you have to figure out what’s next. My main goal is to figure out what’s next after football.

I did take an NFL symposium last year for players transitioning out of football. I worked with a job search company there that helped me as well.

You were a quarterback in high school. How did you become a tight end in college?

I was  a quarterback as a senior in high school but I played tight end the other three years. I was recruited as a tight end my junior year. My senior year the starting quarterback graduated and the backup decided not to play. We were stuck, My brother was the offensive coordinator foe the team, so he asked me to play quarterback.

Tell us about the draft – were you surprised to be drafted by the Steelers?

It was a tough process. I did take a trip to Pittsburgh  – it was the only team I visited. I worked out for Seattle as well since I was  a local guy but I knew the Steelers were somewhat interested. You talk to other teams on the phone but the process is weird. You never know, you could end up anywhere.

I was happy when Pittsburgh called. I met Tomlin and saw the facilities. It was Coach Tomlin that called me and welcomed me to the Steelers. He passed the phone to the Rooneys then to tight end coach J.D.

What did they tell you your role would be once drafted and what kind of tight end were you in college?

In Oregon I was more of a receiving tight end. Blocking was my weakness. In Pittsburgh we had Heath Miller – he was clearly the every day starter. They just told me to come in and compete. We had seven tight ends in camp in the Spring and they just told me to work my way into a role. I knew special teams was the way to make the team.

How did you address the blocking weaknesses?

It was difficult – J.D. worked with us quite a bit. I got tips from Heath – he was great helping me out. And working on drills every day. It was also difficult working on technique when you’re going up against the best players in the world.

Heath, Spaeth, Palmer – we all got close. We hung out outside of practice – went out to dinner with our spouses and went to baseball games together. Those guys took me under their wing and showed me how to be a pro at the facility and were good friends.

Coming from  the other side of the country, I didn’t know anyone in the area. I didn’t have any family but it was good to explore a new part of the country. The tight end group was welcoming and we did that together. In the offseason we worked out together – I was just following in their footsteps.

Any good stories from your time in Pittsburgh?

My second year we had some really cold games – in Cleveland, Baltimore and Green Bay.One thing, before the games we used to use this lotion that helped to keep us warm. It was always a good joke to see who would put on the thickest layer of that stuff. It became a pre-game ritual.

That, and just hanging out together. I really enjoyed that. We gave each other a lot of crap and jokes in position meetings. It was a lot of fun.

How hard was it when you you were cut after your second season – what did they tell you?

My second year there we had four tight ends – me, Heath, Spaeth and Palmer. The next camp Johnson went from a  fullback to more of a hybrid role. They told me they were cutting a tight end position out. The year before Palmer and I were starting on special teams, but in training camp I didn’t work myself into a special teams starter so didn’t earn a starting spot. They just wished me good luck and told me they would be there if I ever needed anything.

Tell us a bit about your role on the practice squad?

I was on San Diego’s practice squad. It was a lot different. You still contribute a lot – there are only 53 active guys on a roster. In college, you have more than double that many people. So in the NFL you have to be able to do a bit of everything. On the scout team I would play tight end,  but also linebacker, defensive end – whatever they needed to give the team a better look for the game. If you don’t do your job well on the scout team the team is less prepared for the game.

In the NFL, you have to be able to not only only work on the scout team, but to take reps to give the other guys a rest, plus work on your technique so you can continue to learn and develop.

Any advice for players entering the game today?

Just to learn as much as possible from the guys that have been there. And enjoy yourself. It doesn’t last forever.

Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades To order, just click on the book:

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