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The Practice Squad - Driven for Success vs. Self Entitlement

Running back  Knowshon Moreno of the Denver Broncos is attended to on the bench late in the 4th quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 12, 2011.(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Running back Knowshon Moreno of the Denver Broncos is attended to on the bench late in the 4th quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 12, 2011.(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The Scout team, Taxi squad, Practice Squad or whatever your preference, is a group of 8 players on a team whose task is to emulate future opponents for the starters. These units typically consist of lesser developed or skilled players that a team can develop. They learn by emulating opposing teams players through a variety of playbooks and by practicing with their team.

It’s origins began in the 1940's, when legendary Browns' coach Paul Brown circumvented the league's 33-man roster limit by keeping a hidden group of off-roster players who were paid by Browns' owner Mickey McBride's taxi company. Hence the term Taxi Squad. For the rest of the story, read here.

The life of a Practice Squad player isn’t for the meek. Here are a few excerpts from an excellent article:

They take punishing hits in practice, bury their heads in playbooks and spend hours watching game film. But they don't play in games. Being relegated to the practice squad is often a sobering experience for players who have grown accustomed to playing key roles for their high school and college teams.

"It is a little different," said Jake Ballard, former Ohio State tight end who is now a rookie on the New York Giants practice squad. "I've been playing for eight years and started as a freshman in high school, too. Now that I'm not in the mix, it just fuels the fire."

" When you're a practice squad guy and you go against the No. 1 defense every day it makes yourself better," Ballard said. "I've got a good shot. I just have to keep working hard and get better every day."

There isn't a better example of a success story for Bronco fans than Wide Receiver Rod Smith. Originally signed by the Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 1994, Rod played his entire 14-year career with the team. He is ranked 15th in NFL history in career receptions and 16th in receiving yards, was a 3-time Pro Bowler, 2-Tome All-Pro, won two Super Bowl rings and earned every inch of those accomplishments.

On the other side of the coin, is the 1st round pick that doesn't play to the expectations of his draft status. Sure there's going to be errors by the scouting staff every once in awhile, but with all the technology currently available, the majority of players who fail to fit the bill do so on their own.

I have a theory or two about this.

Take a young football player, or any athlete for that matter. At the high school level he is given free reign and special treatment due to the fact that he is one of the better if not best players on his team. A few years later, the perks continue at the college level and the athlete gets inured to the coddling. A sense of entitlement, through little fault of his own, grows into an inherited right. After all, people have been telling him he's great for many years now. We all know that if you tell someone they are stupid, over time they will believe it as fact.

So this hypothetical player excels in high school, gets recruited to a good college program, obtains a high rating from the Draft advisory board and is selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. The easy-peasy life continues right?

Welcome to the NFL rookie.

Then reality hits. Or does it?

In more and more cases, the self entitlement mindset remains with the player. He receives a large chunk of money, which he is entitled to with his high draft status. Now he has the funding to whatever he feels like and since he has always had that freedom, things stay the same.

Such is the life of the self entitled. They’ve never had to work for anything because they had the talent to carry them along. Success was a walk in the park, even though it was perceived success. Thought patterns evolve into beliefs that this life will be a piece of cake.

Here is where we see the failed expectations. Said player is enjoying the financial status that goes hand in hand with the lifestyle has has essentially grown up with and he isn’t prepared for his new job as an NFL player. He shows up to his new career unprepared and gets a groin or hamstring injury in Training Camp. The injury never fully heals, rendering that first year’s salary, including a hefty signing bonus, a waste of money for the team. The next year, he comes in and boldly states that he is "in great shape this year," leaving the fan base and his employers to wonder why he didn’t show up in prime condition after he just got paid the prior season. Sound familiar? I have heard this statement from a Broncos first round pick.

Such statements are commonplace with the self entitled. It makes one wonder if they really got an education in the first place. Imagine if you or I went to work and told the boss that you were "really going to give it 100% today." If I were that boss, I would be thinking, "why did I pay you for yesterday then?"

Any one of us would likely be looking for a new employer in that situation.

Back to the story at hand.

The player receives multiple opportunities in the hopes that his play will pay dividends. Nagging bumps, sprains and strains seem to dog him each year. Each year sees another chance because he is still on his rookie contract and relatively cheap to hold onto. The sunk costs were in the signing bonus and from a business standpoint, an employer will resist giving up on an investment. It is true though, that sometimes one must cut their losses and chalk it up to a lesson learned.

One way to motivate a self entitled player, is to light a fire under his butt with a demotion. At this point, the employer is bringing the "hard love" method into play, in order to get the production they paid for by demotion. This also has happened to a Denver Bronco player as recently as this year. An undrafted player that had to work all his career to eke out a living, was promoted past a former first round pick who wasn’t performing to the expectation level of his draft status and salary level. Unfortunately, the experiment didn’t have much chance to prove it’s results. The promoted player got injured and the demoted player regained his job through attrition.

The conclusion that I am trying to make, is that Herb Brooks’ adage is true. "Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard."

Go Broncos!

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