The NFL season is still a long way off, but this weekend marked the start of the Denver Broncos 3 day Rookie-only mini-camp. The Broncos 9 draft choices and 19 undrafted college Free Agents will be in attendance, along with two wide receivers trying out with the team. This will be the first of two mini-camps giving 30 players the chance to show the coaching staff what they can expect from them, in the classroom and on the field. The new rookies are being introduced to the rigors of their new occupation and getting a taste of the off-season conditioning program that will become a regular part of their lifestyle for the rest of their careers.
Ben Garland, a CFA defensive lineman from Air Force:
"It gives us a little bit of a head start so we're not going in there looking at all these guys that already know exactly what they're doing and have been doing it for years," he said. "It gives us a little bit of a warmup before we get into that kind of situation."
After an introduction to strength and conditioning coach Rich Tuten and a session of stretching, the rookies ran through plays, tackling the playbook bit by bit.
Each player will be subjected to a vast amount of information to process in a short time. Learning from the coaches, learning the system, learning their way around the team facilities, and learning the way their new team practices. There is new terminology to learn, and an altitude difference that makes every drill a little more taxing. They WILL have a chance to learn about the new city they work in later, and once they're surrounded by veterans, they will be learning from them--if they pay attention.
They also found out McDaniels is a very hands-on head coach, especially with his offense. The Broncos run their practices at a fast pace and it is made clear they are no joke. “He brings an energy to the practice field, and I think guys just feed off it,” quarterback Kyle Orton said last year.
It is critical that each rookie spend their free time poring over their playbook and mastering it's contents. Knowing their assignments and adjustments will carry them a long way into making the club. If they want to earn the respect of the veterans and coaches, they will need to do it with knowledge. Every one of their teammates is an athlete, so they'll have to use their head.
6th round pick offensive lineman Eric Olsen:
"It's all about effort...Obviously people are going to make mental errors here and there, but it's tough to learn everything in the playbook in one day but all you can do is just go out and go 100%. Finish every play and finish every practice."
Not every Rookie is worried about mental errors. The Broncos QB of the future, Tim Tebow, is too busy to be nervous. Apparently the kid is enthusiastic, giddy and "having fun, not feeling any pressure."
During the 25-minute period in which reporters, photographers and cameramen were allowed to observe, Tebow ran agility drills and then threw several passes under the watchful eyes of coach Josh McDaniels and McDaniels' younger brother, Ben, who is Denver's new quarterbacks coach.
Deploying his new and improved throwing motion that removes the looping windup he had in college, Tebow's throws were tight and compact.
There were an anxious pair of Wide Receivers taking mental reps on the side. 3rd round selection Eric Decker didn't participate in the drills this weekend as he is recovering from a foot injury, but expects to be at full speed before Training Camp. Broncos top pick Demaryius Thomas did not participate either. He admitted he's eager to get back out there with his teammates, but he doesn't want to rush anything. Neither Thomas or Decker have a timetable for their return to the field, but both left Friday's practice with a great impression of their rookie class.
Rookie Mini-Camps ease the transition to the NFL by allowing rookies to get all of the repetitions and learn the scheme, playbook, and practice format and drills, before the veterans arrive. It allows the coaches to better evaluate the players in an element separate from the veterans. Especially how quickly they are able to process all the information they are being fed.
Learning the on-field drills is a complex matter, but the new recruits will come away knowing more about the system and the way the team will try and use them. The faster these young players can achieve this, the sooner the coach will trust them and reward them with playing time.
2nd round pick Zane Beadles:
"To be able to come in with six guys and build some camaraderie...work together and learn together--Learning together is a huge thing, It's better with more guys than one or two."
ARTICLE XXXVI of the CBA deals with Mini-camps. The Rules regarding them are similar to OTA's.
Section 1. Number: Each League Year each Club may hold a maximum of one mandatory mini-camp for veteran players. If a Club hires a new head coach after the end of the regular season, that Club may hold two additional voluntary mini-camps for veteran players. There is no limitation on the number of mini-camps a Club may hold for rookie players.
Last year, Josh McDaniels took advantage of the two extra mini-camps to help get acquainted with his team.
Section 2. Length: No mini-camp may exceed three days in length, plus one day for physical examinations. If possible, mini-camps should be scheduled for weekends and not in conflict with previously scheduled meetings of the NFLPA Board of Reps or the annual NFLPA convention.
The Rookies will also be unavailable during the NFL Rookie Symposium, which will take place in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida June 27-30th.
Section 3. Expenses: Any veteran player who attends a mini-camp will receive meal allowances in accordance with Article XXXIX (Meal Allowance), Section 1 of this Agreement, plus all travel expenses to and from the camp, plus “per diem” payments at the rate provided in Article XXXVII (Salaries), Section 4 of this Agreement. In addition, the Club will provide housing at mini-camps for players coming from out‑of‑town.
Here are those sections of the CBA:
ARTICLE XXXIX MEAL ALLOWANCE
Section 1. Reimbursement: A player will be reimbursed for meals not furnished by his Club on travel days during the preseason, regular season and postseason as follows: 2002 League Year-Breakfast $15.00, Lunch $21.00, Dinner $39.00; 2003-04 League Years-Breakfast $16.00, Lunch $23.00, Dinner $41.00; and 2005-07 League Years-Breakfast $17.00, Lunch $25.00, Dinner $43.00. For purposes of this Article, commercial airline meals or the equivalent shall not be considered as furnished by the Club.ARTICLE XXXVII
Section 4. Veteran Per Diem: During the term of this Agreement, a veteran player will receive "per diem" payments at the rate of $900 per week in the 2000-03 League Years, $1,000 per week in the 2004 League Year, and $1,100 per week in the 2005-07 League Years, commencing with the first day of pre-season training camp and ending one week prior to the Club's first regular season game, and an additional $200 per week during the pre-season, commencing with the Club's first pre-season game (exclusive of the Canton Hall of Fame Game and any International Game) and ending one week prior to the Club's first regular season game.
Now to continue with Article XXXVI
Section 4. Contact: There will be no contact work (e.g., “live” blocking, tackling, pass rushing, bump‑and‑run) or use of pads (helmets permitted) at mini-camps.
Section 5. Injuries: Any player injured in a Club’s mini-camp will be protected in the same manner as if injured during the Club’s pre‑season training camp.
Don't believe the hype. Despite not wearing pads, the players do get physical at mini-camp.
The coaches will tell the rookies they want them to protect each other on the field and to be smart about their tempo during practice. There will be signs up in the locker room that recite the purpose of mini-camp practices and mention the level of intensity should be conducive to learning and not a situation where it becomes a physical contest between two players.
Though players only wear helmets and do not have on pads, mini-camp is most definitely a competitive endeavor that is being fully evaluated by the coaching staff. Defensive linemen try to physically beat their counterparts along the offensive line. Offensive linemen try to get off the ball and create a push in the running game. If drills weren't being evaluated, NFL Teams would not hold mini-camps to gauge the talent on their rosters.
Despite the fact that no pads are involved, mini-camp is very physical, and the sooner a rookie realizes that, the better. Invariably, one side of the ball increases the tempo as a result of the feeling that the other side is going too hard, and the intensity escalates. Scuffles don't happen unless guys are competing physically against one another.
The coaches want to see the effort that the players put forth and want to see a rookie going full speed, even if they have made a mistake.
A few more tidbits that really didn't fit in with this article, but have pertinence here:
Because of an agreement between the NFL and NCAA, no rookie may join his NFL team for workouts until either he graduates from college or his class graduates. The lone exception is one brief mini-camp, otherwise they are barred from the extended spring workouts. Most other rookies may continue to work out, learn the offense and defense, and pick up lessons from veterans and coaches with their new team.
Also, while researching this piece, I had a question. So I contacted Jack Bechta of the National Football Post.
KK: Do undrafted CFA's get a Signing Bonus? If so, how Much? And would they get a performance type bonus for making the final Roster other than qualifying for the league minimum salary?
JB: Most do but not all. the average signing bonus is about $7,000. however, teams like the Ravens don't do more than $1,000. Most teams won't offer a performance bonus for UFAs.
Jack D. Bechta
The National Football Post
We've all heard that saying, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression," and that's a very appropriate term in the NFL. Even though most coaches and scouts have some preconceived notion of the players they've selected before they set foot on the field, mini-camps are the first time the players have an opportunity to either confirm or dispel those beliefs.
Everything a rookie does once he arrives is evaluated. Teams want to know how important football is to a player and how he will act now that he has gotten to the NFL. Who is the first player to arrive in the morning? What players stay after practice to work on the new techniques they are being taught? Which players look like they are treating this as a profession and are hungry to thrive? Which players are picking up the new offense or defense schemes the quickest?
These are all critical questions in the minds of the coaching staffs.
One of the most difficult adjustments for any rookie, and even more so for a player from a lower level, is the increased size and speed of the players around them. For most rookies, mini-camp is the first time in their lives they aren't head and shoulders above everyone on the field. Some rookies have a tough time coming to grips with that fact and are unable to adjust to no longer being the best athlete on the field.
Alphonso Smith on his first mini-camp last year:
"It's not the speed," Smith said. "It's that everyone is professional. Everyone is a master of their craft. That's where rookies are lacking. You need to be more precise, more disciplined, more on-key."
In an interview in 2007, then rookie Ryan Kalil of the Carolina Panthers had this to say:
"In college, every team has their All-American players. “Defensively at USC, we had a bunch of them. But here at the pro level, everybody is kind of an All-American. Everybody is fast and everybody is a stud. You really can’t let down one play. It’s one of those things where you’ve got to stay on top of every bit of it. Every bit of technique and every bit of energy you have has to go into that play. At the same time, you’ve got a thousand things going on in your mind. Just adjusting to the speed, getting used to running that fast and getting the plays all settled in my mind have been the biggest adjustments.”
Walking into your first mini-camp as a rookie can be overwhelming, just by the thought of being a new member of an NFL Team. Imagine the first impression a young rookie would have on Day 1
These dudes are big!
Then Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins enter the room.
Welcome to the Broncos rookie.
The sight of future Hall of Famers and a host of other veteran players sitting in the same meeting room would take some getting used to.
After all, these guys are no longer my heroes and legends that I watched during my youth; they are now co-workers and teammates!
Once the initial shock has run it's course, a rookie can stop looking around the room googly-eyed and get down to the business of acting like they belong on the team. The impression made at their initial mini-camp goes a long way towards securing a roster spot. Study the plays with diligence and limit mental mistakes. Practice as hard as you can, no matter who you are blocking, and try to incorporate the techniques that the position coach is teaching you.
Hopefully every rookie is getting this advice as they take their first steps towards a successful pro career.
Each day that goes by counts down to the time of the year that we all love.