May 15, 2015 - Greg Gabriel
What's up next for the Rookies?
The 2015 NFL Draft was completed two weeks ago. With the draft behind us, what is up next for the rookies who were either drafted or signed as undrafted free agents? Most clubs had a rookie mini-camp last weekend. There are still a few teams that will hold the rookie camp this weekend. The players each team drafted and signed as free agents attend these camps as well as numerous other players who are attending on a tryout basis. A club can have as many as 90 players under contract during the offseason, so for many clubs, they could possibly sign five or six players who were competing on a tryout basis. Starting this weekend, the rookies can begin taking part in the offseason programs if exams have ended at their school. If the school they attended is still in session, and if the player hasn’t already graduated, he cannot participate in any off the off season sessions until that is complete. Most schools that use a semester system are now finished, schools on a quarterly system are sometimes in session until mid - June. The players from these schools cannot take part in the off season program or OTA’s. As we saw at many of the different rookie camps, several rookies are not in the condition needed to make it through the various practices. When they begin taking part in the offseason programs, they will get back into football shape fairly quickly. The offseason programs include weight-room activities, classroom learning and on-the-field instruction. These offseason sessions usually last four days a week (Monday through Thursday) with Friday being a makeup day for a daily session missed. In addition to weight room and on-field instruction, each rookie goes through an orientation program set up and run by the club’s player development staff. The program can include lectures on finance, finding a place to live, and how to act in public as a member of an NFL team. The program can also set up field trips to get the players acclimated to the area in which they will soon live. At the end of June, all drafted players are required to attend the rookie symposium. This event lasts four or five says and deals with some of the same things that the orientation deals with, including how to be and act like a professional. Many current and former players will speak at the symposium and relate to the rookies the experiences they went through as rookies. Some have of sad stories to tell as the rookie experience isn’t always a pleasant one. OTAs Beginning in late May or early June, clubs will begin to have OTAs (organized team activities) practices. A team can have as many as 12 of these sessions, and they are much like mini-camp practices. A practice can last about 90 minutes to almost two hours in length. During the practices, there are individual periods where each positional group goes through drills designed to teach certain techniques. There are also installation periods where the offensive and defensive plays are installed and team periods when the offense goes against the defense. These are highly intense periods, but they are supposed to be non-contact. Players wear helmets but no shoulder pads, so the chance of injury is strong if there was any contact. It is during these practices that rookies are catching up to the veterans so to speak in learning the offensive and defensive schemes. The rookies who are able to learn and retain the best are the ones that get on the field the earliest. There is one thing certain about NFL coaches. They play the players they trust, and they trust the players who don’t make mental mistakes. If a rookie doesn’t know or understand the system, he'd better stay after practice and try and learn it. Failure to learn and understand the scheme is a sure way to get cut. Rare physical talent can buy a player some time, but NFL coaches are not known for their patience. A players job is to know and understand what is going on. Rookies and veterans usually have about four weeks “off” between the end of the off season program and the beginning of training camp. Rest assured, they aren’t really off. Though they aren’t using the clubs facilities to train, they'd better find a way to stay in football condition, as once camp opens, the coaches don’t wait for players not in top shape. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe