Last weekend was humbling, at a minimum, for the first-year players of 24 teams that held their initial minicamp just five days after the draft ended. Everywhere one looked another rookie was either cramping up, pulling a muscle or just plain losing their lunch on the field. Not exactly the first impression I advised a lot of these players to make.
Almost every franchise had some rookie issue pop up. If it wasn't first rounder Jason Pierre-Paul receiving medical attention for back pain and stiffness it was third rounder Chad Jones being chided and derided by head coach Tom Coughlin, among others, for being overweight and out of shape. The Giants weren't the only New York team to have issues. Jets fourth-round running back Joe McKnight, the heir apparent to Leon Washington, spent most of his first foray into pro football puking, cramping and having footballs bounce off of his facemask.
Dez Bryant supposedly lit it up in Dallas, but in between stints showcasing his tremendous natural ability he also upchucked on Friday and sprained an ankle on Sunday (a circumstantial event that's not an indication of poor conditioning). The pulled hamstrings in Tampa for Bucs rookies Brian Price and Dekoda Watson, on the other hand, are usually an indication of not being properly trained for the situation.
Here are the three reasons so many rookies had such inauspicious debuts:
Improper Training. Most of these rookies spent so much effort focusing on the combine testing that they failed to get into football shape during the weeks leading up to the draft. Maybe they could blame the visits they had to make to team facilities or maybe they celebrated too hard after the draft. Either way, it is no excuse in the eyes of coaches, because almost all of those players had a month or more after their pro day to get ready for minicamp.
Practice Tempo. There is no doubt that the intensity level for every drill is ratcheted up a notch in the NFL. Practices are so efficient that they run more plays in their team periods and find a way to get more reps in during individual drills than most colleges do. But don't take my word for it.
"These guys thought they were practicing hard," head coach Jim Schwartz said of the Lions' rookies last weekend. "Our pace is generally three times as fast as what these guys were going through. . . . They didn't really have a feeling of where they need to be to be in shape. They think they're in good shape, and they have no idea once they get here."
And his advice for them in anticipation of the organized team activity practices later this month? "For the most part, it's not stay in shape," Schwartz said. "It's get in shape."
New and Different Techniques. To be fair to the rookies, it may not be entirely their fault. Some are being taught completely unfamiliar techniques. As a result, they could be putting their bodies into positions that are new to them. That's how you strain muscles. Every year when I was with the Bills one of the rookie defensive linemen would strain his calf. That's because former Bengals defensive lineman Tim Krumrie, the defensive line coach in Buffalo, would have them use and roll their hips so much that their calves were unable to hold up to the load they were unaccustomed to carrying.
Mail time ...
Just curious. Does the animosity between you and guys like LaVar still hold? Many hold the impression that such battles are quickly put behind and chalked up to competitiveness. I don't know about you, but if someone split my ear open I would have a hard time being in the same neighborhood with them, much less sharing a locker room and sideline.-- James Smith, Everett, Wash.
Not at all. LaVar and I get along. I was mad at him for a couple of weeks after that incident because he swung my helmet at me and I felt like that went over the line, but I let it go. A lot of times guys in the locker room will actually laugh together about the fight they had on the field just 30 minutes earlier.
I agree the Jets made some weird moves... but how do you write the whole article without mentioning Shonn Greene, who, by the way, is their STARTING running back for next year? Weird moves yes, but they are depending on Greene and LT, not McKnight.-- Scott Cornelis, Chicago
I probably should have mentioned Greene but I was focusing on all of the moves that the Jets made this offseason and Greene is not one of them. That said, there is a big difference between showing flashes of brilliance in the postseason and carrying the load for 16-plus games. But that shouldn't be a problem for him because according to all the e-mails I got from Jets fans, Greene is pretty much a lock for NFL MVP this year.
I'm not a rookie football player who just got drafted, but I am a military retiree (27 yrs AF). After reading your open letter to the new NFL rookies, I realized how much of what you said is perfectly true about making the military a career choice (except for the 'lots of money' part and especially about the injuries part). Would you mind terribly if I were to use it to introduce new young 'rookies' in the Air Force. I currently do basically the same thing but never really put it into a format like you did. Your letter really struck a chord with me.-- Paul C. Patrick, Vacaville, Calif.
Absolutely. I'd be honored.
Well written. As a former NFL 1st round draft pick who had a career-ending injury three years into my career, your advice rings very true. Fortunately I saved what money I made and put it towards my second career of becoming a physician. These young players need to recognize the NFL as an amazing spring board into the rest of their life. As you have written, even if they have the most successful of careers, they will only be in their 30's when they retire. That is a lot of life to live outside of the NFL. They need to find a passion outside of football that will inspire them well beyond the years their bodies and talents will allow them to play in the league. Again, well-written article. I hope this year's rookies (and veterans at that) read it and take it to heart.-- John Michels, Houston
Thanks, John. Seeing a former first-rounder move on to become a doctor should be an inspiration to everybody. Not the typical career path that most people envision an ex-player taking.
How much does a (free agent) player weigh in playing for a particular coach while deciding where to sign.--Via Twitter
It's a factor because of the familiarity, but more often than not it still comes down to money.
Fans always hear about "complex schemes," especially with blitzing Ds. As an O-lineman, what makes them so hard to prepare for?--Via Twitter
NFL blitz packages seemingly get more creative every year, and during a game each team usually runs at least one blitz that it hadn't shown previously on tape. Those are impossible to prepare for.