Each year training camps open and each year fans are anxious to see what potential their favorite teams have to offer. Fans of great teams look for signs of continued dominance, fans of good teams look for signs of that next step to being great and fans of bad teams look for signs of hope for a brighter tomorrow. Training camp is where the fans get a look at what the future brings, and this is at no point more apparent then when you look at the rookies that the team has brought in.
The NFL rookie is an interesting subject. They can come in all shapes and sizes, from all different backgrounds and walks of life, but they all strive for one thing: to be a star in the league. The promise of rookies paying off for their teams is possibly the most exciting part of training camp and the early parts of the NFL season. With so many eyes on them, some rookies soar to new heights and quickly establish themselves, but most fade away and don't even make the roster.
So what makes a good rookie in today's NFL? Well from this fan's point-of-view—which isn't too different from a coach's or a player's—a good rookie is an easy yet difficult thing to categorize. As a longtime Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I have had the good fortune of seeing many excellent rookies come through Steelers training camp and I know what many fans like to see.
Fans want their rookies to show toughness and a hard edge for the game: to sacrifice their bodies by laying out for those tough catches, to run through defenders when toting the rock, to get down-and-dirty in trenches, to hit someone. We look for skill that stands out and makes people say "wow."
More than anything, fans want to see rookies pushing themselves and showing effort, effort that tells the fans, coaches and other players that this kid wants to be here. We want a player that would bleed for his team, and by extension, the team's fans. We want a player who we would defend in a fist fight with someone who likes the opposing team. We want a hero in pads who makes the team we love better then they were before.
Yet for every Adrian Peterson, Maurkice Pouncey and Peyton Manning, there are hundreds of JaMarcus Russells, Tony Mandarichs and Ryan Leafs. Being able to tell whether or not a player will be a stud or a dud from training camp is nearly impossible, and even some of the "safest" prospects still come up short.
The rookie can be like the girlfriend who treats you bad, but still makes you come back for more; it's that tease that gives us the early suspense of the football season. As a fan you want greatness, and these young players could be greatness waiting to be unleashed on opposing teams. All we can do is cross our fingers and hope for the best.