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Exclusive with Steelers Offensive Lineman Derwin Gray

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Ron Lippock talked with Derwin Gray, who just signed a four-year deal after being drafted by the Steelers in the 7th round of the 2019 NFL Draft. 

So – surprised to be drafted by Pittsburgh – or was it something you had an idea may happen?

I wasn’t too surprised – they had ben contacting me throughout the process. Mr. Rooney actually reached out to me in January and told me he liked my film. I really appreciated  that, but I knew nothing was guaranteed. I had  no clue who would take me but I wasn’t surprised it was the Steelers.

What did they say when they called you – and who called you?

Coach Tomlin called. The first thing he said was “What’s up Dirty Terp? Are you ready to be a Pittsburgh Steeler?”It was crazy. I couldn’t believe it.Then he passed the phone around to the rest of the staff.

Has it sunk in yet?

Definitely it hasn’t all sunk it yet. It’s a dream come true, but I know it’s just the start. Nothing is guaranteed.

You’re speak a lot about growing up on rough streets in Washington, DC and how that’s shaped your approach to the game and life in general. Tell me a bit about that.

If you watch my film, you’ll see what many people say. That I play nasty. That I have a crazy mean streak. Well, growing up, life was physical all the time. You’re taught to not let anyone touch you – that you have to be physical to protect yourself. So there were a lot of fights, a lot of physical stuff happening. Football became a great alternative for me. It kept me out of trouble by using football as a way to get that physicality out. I grew up in hard times, so now I get to use football as a platform t help others who have gone through the same thing.

Have the coaches spoken to you about next steps yet and what your role will be entering camp?

I’m not sure what’s next really. I’ll get to mini-camp on the ninth and find out.

For now, they want me to be a swing player – to play offensive guard and on the outside. Tomlin wants me to be an offensive tackle first, but I have the body type to play inside too. He said it’s up to me to prove that I can play on the outside.

Have you looked at the roster to see where your best opportunities may be?

I think there are some open spots for me. They traded Marcus Gilbert so there’s a big chance for me at right tackle, but nothing is guaranteed there. I looked at the offensive guard depth too and I think they need help there. Either way I’m just going to go in and work my tail off to earn a spot on the offensive line and learn as much as I can as quickly as I can.

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Have you reached out to former teammate Sean Davis?

Not yet, but I have been speaking with Marcus Allen – he grew up in the area too. He just told me the main thing was to stay hydrated. I know it’s a tough camp – the toughest in football. But that’s why we get paid the big bucks!

What is your greatest strength you think you bring to the game?

I think the strongest thing for me is my preparation for games and practices. That’s the one thing that gets me over the edge. I stick to my gameplan every week, no matter who we play. Go over the run game Tuesdays, short yardage on Thursdays, and Fridays go over third downs. Of course I know things may be different in Pittsburgh. But I’ll work with the older guys like Pouncey and they’ll teach me more of the things I don’t know.

System-wise, how do you think your playing style fits what the Steelers do?

I know they like to run the ball – Conner had a great year, and Bell the year before that. I can fit into the run blocking scheme well due to my physicality. I can fit into any system – inside zones, outside zones, in tight….I just have to execute and know what I’m doing. That means working with the vets and learning the system quickly.

What are the things you think you need to work on most to make the team?

I definitely have to work more on my lower body strength. I had knee surgery a year ago and it hurt my game a bit – especially getting the strength back and the flexibility in my hips. I need to work on loosening up my hips.

Any interests outside of the sport?

I play 2K, Madden…I’m a gamer. Playing games keeps me in the house and out of trouble. And basketball – I like to play a little but haven’t done a lot of that lately.

I’m definitely looking forward to playing JuJu in some Madden!

Anyone you’re looking to line up against in camp?

I’m just ready to go and compete. I know the defensive line is tough. I’m just ready to get at it!

Ron Lippock is the author of Steelers Takeaways and has interviewed over 650 past and present Steelers players, coaches and personnel. You can purchase his book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Steelers-Takeaways-Memories-Through-Decades/dp/1681570076

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