Training camps are underway all over the National Football League. That means roster spots and playing time are up for grabs around the country. While camp is old news for the veterans (some even try to avoid it like the plague), this is a brand new world for the rookies. These guys were just college students a few months ago, and now they’re professional football players. They’re forced to grow up fast — and if they don’t — they get left in the dust.
There are major differences between college football and the NFL. The adjustments are different for every rookie. Seahawks fifth round pick Korey Toomer (a linebacker out of Idaho) says the mental part of the NFL game is the toughest, especially understanding the playbook and learning from the veterans. Third rounder Russell Wilson (a quarterback from Wisconsin) echoed that sentiment, saying he spends nine hours a day studying the playbook. He also said that he tries to learn at least three new things at practice every single day. So, instead of learning math or history like they were a few months ago — rookies are now students of the game.
“I put my best foot forward every time” Wilson explained to me. “I’m going to compete, because that’s the way I was raised my entire life.”
First round draft pick Bruce Irvin (a linebacker out of West Virginia) isn’t concerned with the mental aspect; he just has a hard time with the six o’clock wake-up call every morning. He says all the rookies are up early, and then they have to spend extra hours (that the veterans don’t) at the training facility every day, so that makes for really long days. Aside from all that, Irvin says the speed of the NFL is the biggest difference for him.
“Everybody is fast,” he said. “Tackles are big, athletic dudes that move like power forwards in the [NBA].”
We often focus on the glitz and glamor of playing in the NFL, but that’s not the lifestyle for most rookies. These guys are constantly fighting for their professional lives — one mistake can mean the end of their football careers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the rookies say, “I have to make the most of my opportunities.” From Bruce Irvin (who’s guaranteed a roster spot), to fourth round running back Robert Turbin, to seventh round defensive end Greg Scruggs — they’re all determined to make an impression at camp.
“Every time you come out to practice, someone is trying to win a spot,” said second round pick Bobby Wagner (a linebacker from Utah State). “If you come here asleep, someone will take your job.”
“I’m just trying to earn a spot on the team,” said Korey Toomer. “Whether it’s special teams or anything else the coach wants me to do, wherever they want to put me, that’s where I’ll play.”
On top of all the adjustments they have to make and the fierce competition, the rookies also have to deal with some light-hearted hazing. Toomer says he hasn’t faced anything yet, but he knows it’s coming. Irvin also says he hasn’t been “tied to any goalposts” yet, but he does have to carry a veteran’s shoulder pads and helmet out to the practice field every day. Wagner is dealing with the same chore. I saw him lugging around Leroy Hill’s gear after practice. I have a feeling the worst is yet to come for these guys. If the Seahawks are anything like the Seattle Mariners, the rookies will have to carry around ’Hello Kitty’ backpacks — a right of passage for first-year pitchers on the M’s roster.
Don’t get me wrong. This post isn’t meant to expose the plight of an NFL rookie. These guys are loving every second of this. They’ve worked their entire lives to reach this point. When I asked Korey Toomer if he was having fun at training camp he quickly replied yes, and added that “football is always fun.” Russell Wilson agrees. He repeatedly told me that it’s a blessing for him to be competing in an NFL camp. Even if they don’t earn a starting role or even a roster spot, these guys have reached a pinnacle that most of us can only dream about. They’re in the frickin’ NFL — getting paid to play football.
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