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Why NFL rookies have no excuses for misbehavior, plus more mailbag

"Don't be the guy."

That was the message delivered by Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin during a talk he gave to every drafted rookie at the 2009 NFL Rookie Symposium at in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., earlier this week. The next crop of NFL stars listened intently as the young Super Bowl-winning coach gave them advice on how to maximize their potential NFL careers. Tomlin said no further explanation was needed because every player in that room knows enough to realize what those four words mean.

When asked about off-field incidents involving NFL stars, I often tell people there's no idiot's guide on how to be young, rich and famous. In fact, it is an experiment that is bound to go wrong to varying degrees, no matter how much effort is expended to prevent failure. And while some will point to the background of many of the players who step out of line, the truth is I know plenty of well-adjusted people that would make poor decisions if they were given millions of dollars and a boatload of notoriety at age 22. Though there may be no handbook on how to handle that situation, the seminar the NFL provides for these players, at great expense to the league, is really the next best thing.

As an undrafted player, I never attended a symposium until this week when I attended as an instructor. I came away thinking the four-day mandatory event could just as easily be called the "no excuses" camp. The players receive guidance and information on topics ranging from financial education to sexual health and everything in between. It is an intense format designed to help players make the transition from college to the pros. For the NFL, it is a sizable investment in their future and many of the players that succeed can point to a watershed moment from the symposium.

"I just remember hearing Cris Carter talk last year," said Denver Broncos wide receiver Eddie Royal, coming off a stellar rookie season. "He was so passionate about the game and his love of football, talking about how badly he wished he could still play. It made me realize how fortunate I was to have this opportunity and how critical it is that I make the most of it."

Rookies are encouraged to ask questions they may have throughout the week and it is made very clear from the first day that anything is fair game. There are no dumb questions. There is also no place for any rookie to claim ignorance if they break any rules because every possible subject is covered in-depth.

The benefits for both the players and the league are far-reaching. "The coaches tell us the rookies are much better prepared for what they are going to face," said NFL Senior VP Peter Ruocco, one of the architects of the symposium.

No matter how much time or expense the NFL devotes, however, there are still bound to be some who choose a different path. What is that expression about leading a horse to water but not being able to make them drink? In the end, it is still up to the players to make the right decisions at the critical times.

"I firmly believe that NFL players should be held to a higher standard," said St. Louis Rams second-year defensive end Chris Long, "and this event is one reason why."

Now on to your email ...

Regarding your recent column, the Packers' operating profit last season was $20.1 million, but after deducting their investment loss and taxes, their net income was only $4 million, for a profit margin (net income divided by gross sales) of 1.61 percent, which is minuscule. The average profit margin of S&P 500 companies from 1980 to 2005 (before the current recession) was 8.3 percent. If they don't turn a profit, they go out of business (in this case, they'd have to sell). Eighty percent of all businesses go out of business within five years; 96% of all businesses go out of business within 10 years. The Packers are saving up money to re-sign seven key veterans whose contracts expire within the next 16 months. They're neither embarrassing the NFL nor enjoying extravagant profits. They're fortunate to be intelligently operating in the black in this very down economy.--John Nehmer, Milwaukee

I can now say definitively that the fastest way to get a full inbox is to write anything that could possibly be construed as a knock against either the Packers or the Steelers. The fans of those two teams know how to rally the troops. Unfortunately, a number of you either missed my point all together or failed to understand the perspective from which I write as a former player.

To start, I was not being critical of the Packers organization or Ted Thompson at all. Not even a little bit. In fact, if I were a GM I would run my team very similarly if not identically to the way Thompson does. Build through the draft, give contract extensions to your core players, and supplement occasionally through free agency.

I am also not in any way suggesting the Packers should have spent more of their available cap room in order to show a smaller operating profit. What I am saying is if they had spent more money on player compensation during the previous NFL fiscal year and gotten closer to the cap as opposed to barely reaching the salary floor, the profit would have been so small on a relative basis that it could have strengthened the owner's position in the upcoming CBA negotiations. And they could have done it by extending their own players like Nick Collins and Jason Spitz if they so chose, thereby not straying from their organizational philosophy. As it stands, the operating profit of over $20 million doesn't really help out the owners. And no, I am not shedding any tears about that.

Could you comment on the issues that a 'mobile' QB creates for an offensive line in pass protection? I have noticed that various athletic and mobile QBs (Daunte Culpepper pre 2005 injury, Mike Vick, Matt Cassel, Ben Roethlisberger) seem to have a high number of sacks, even though they are considered to be very elusive and tough to bring down. Is it all on the offensive line for the high number of sacks? --No name given, Corunna, Ontario

In my experience offensive linemen typically get excited when they initially work with a mobile quarterback because they feel as if that will help them give up less sacks, i.e., if they get beat, the quarterback may be able to avoid the pass rusher. That excitement, however, quickly gives way to the reality that a lot of times scrambling quarterbacks rack up higher sack numbers because they aren't always where you expect them to be when you are blocking for them and their confidence in their mobility leads them to try to extend plays when sometimes they should just cut their losses.

Ultimately, the most offensive-line friendly quarterbacks are the ones that get their team into the right play or protection at the line of scrimmage, set up in the pocket exactly where the linemen expect them to be, move subtly in the pocket to avoid pressure, get rid of the ball on time, and if all else fails, throws the ball away when nothing is there.

Why even have a physical playbook? All you need is a secure Web site, and a laptop. I thought the NFL was semi-technologically advanced?--Dave Musumeci, Beverly, Mass.

The NFL is getting more and more "semi-technologically" advanced on a yearly basis by giving players cut-ups of the opposition's game film on DVDs that they can take home to watch as well as compiling better potential tendency statistical information. The move to a secure Web site and a laptop will probably happen at some point in the next decade but this is still football and a lot of the coaches in the NFL are decidedly old-school. I am pretty sure having no hard copy of the playbook would be a mind-blowing event for them. Some of those guys have a hard enough time keeping up just with the increasingly complex video-editing systems that NFL teams employ.

Mr. Tucker, I am curious if football players feel conflicted about playing on Sunday? Do religious players agonize about missing traditional church services held Sunday mornings?--Matt Carmichael, Seneca, S.C.

I am sure some guys miss going to church on Sunday with their families during the season but it is not a topic of conversation I ever recall having or hearing when I was playing. A lot of players attend bible study sessions during the week with their significant others and every team with which I ever played had both a Catholic Mass and a Chapel service on Saturday nights at the hotel. Players that wanted to devote time to their spirituality typically did so then; in fact, those services were well attended. I think in general for most players the pros of being in the NFL and providing for one's family outweigh the disappointment of not being able to attend traditional church services for 16 Sundays.

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