The next step in the process for rookies in the NFL is to experience their first minicamp, with most of the league’s teams kicking off their weekends today. Some will attend rookie-only camps, while others will be thrown into three fast-paced days with the veterans. Let’s look at what they can expect in their introduction to the NFL — a guideline of sorts from my experiences as a rookie and as a veteran.
The “handshakes” are over
Rookies are treated like gold over draft weekend. The first-round picks are flown in for press conferences, they hold up jerseys and are patted on the back by GMs, head coaches and even equipment managers. However, that ends once they get into meetings and once they get on the field. The best thing a rookie can do is play his role this weekend, listen, and if the veterans are in town, stay out of their way. The free passes will end.
Get in the playbook
Rookies will be handed the entire playbook this weekend in their first meetings and coaches will expect them to grasp the majority of the concepts by the time they hit the field. If you are a rookie, spend every minute of free time you have — in the hotel, at lunch, in the locker room — studying your responsibilities for practice. Coaches expect your technique to be off but they have little patience for rookies who can’t pick up the basic offense or defense.
Adapt to NFL speed
The first thing that rookies will realize when they take the practice field is the overall speed of the players. Just like the jump from high school to the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12 and so on, the speed jumps. But, in the NFL, it is amazing to see for the first time how fast every position moves and plays. Even in rookie-only camps, everyone can run. And if you are with the vets this weekend, be prepared to get beat — often.
Learn how to practice
NFL practices are fast paced. There is no time between drills and hardly any time to rest. If you are out of shape, it will reflect in the film room when you turn on the tape to watch practice, and no one wants to see a rookie sucking gas after the individual drills — when there are still two hours of practice time left. Most, if not all, rookies have been training to run 40s, short shuttles, 3-cone drills and everything else that is associated with pro days and the combine. It will show today when they are asked to play football in cleats for the first time since bowl season. Try to keep up.
Don’t be a “Mini-Camp All-America”
It is guaranteed to happen every year at minicamp with a rookie. Just as we talked about learning how to practice, minicamp isn’t the place to practice through the whistle, to cause collisions or to show how tough you are in shorts and helmets. But, it will go down over the weekend when a rookie tries to show the coaches that he is NFL-ready by running full speed into a veteran down the field — making them a target once the pads go on in August.
Respect the game
Even though some of these top picks will make more money in their first contracts than most vets will make in their entire lifetimes, know the history of the team. Understand that some of these veterans have been playing this game for over a decade and they won’t give up their jobs easily. Respect what they have done to make it this far and learn from them. Watch them practice, see how they take care of their bodies and understand what type of dedication it takes to play this game on Sundays. When I went to my first minicamp in St. Louis, all I did was watch players like Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Kurt Warner — and I kept my mouth shut.
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