Prior to the start of the Washington Redskins season, we tend to hear how veterans take rookies under their wing and show them the ropes—educating them on how things are done in the big leagues. While this is a valuable lesson that allows rookies to learn the ins and outs of the NFL experience, often times it is the rookies who have something to teach the veterans.
This season, the Redskins have seven incoming rookies who were drafted and selected for their abilities, potential and long-term contributions to the team. Each of them made a name for themselves in college and have the talent to merit a consideration on the team's 53-man roster.
As it turns out, all 254 NFL rookies have gathered this week at the Cleveland Browns practice facility for the NFL Rookie Symposium—an annual event that requires the league's newest players to attend. It is during this week incoming rookies learn some of the best ways to make the transition from college to the pros.
Essentially, the rookies learn life lessons as they adjust from being the big fish in the little pond to the little fish in the big pond. Everything from financial planning to off-field behavior.
Before you begin to brush off this idea and discount the entire premise of this article, telling yourself rookies don't know anything about life in the NFL, let alone have anything to teach a veteran—hear me out. I have identified five areas in which these newest players can help veterans.
These areas have nothing to do with mechanics or style of play. After all, while rookies may have been standouts in college, now they are starting as the low man on the proverbial totem pole. They have yet to earn the respect of their teammates or coaches that they may have garnered while in college.
In addition, rookies have been taught from the beginning they need to respect veterans as these men have been in the trenches. They are older, wiser and have first-hand experience in the NFL. They command respect.
Not necessarily for who they are, but what they represent.
This year's rookie class does not have actual NFL experience. However, they do have other areas in which their insight, work ethic, humility and desire to not only make the team but move up the depth chart to a starting position can be helpful to veterans.
Here are five areas in which I believe Redskins veterans can benefit and possibly learn from the incoming class of seven rookies for the new season.
It is no coincidence one of the panel discussions at the NFL Rookie Symposium this week is titled: "Are You Bigger Than the Game?" Rookies have to be reminded of that now that they have become ambassadors of the game.
Everything they do off the field is as important as what they do on the field.
One of the scheduled activities for rookies this week is a visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in nearby Canton, Ohio. A fitting and humbling tribute for any 20-something former college big man on campus, who now enters a world of the NFL where everybody but him is larger that life.
As rookies, they will no longer be able to rest on their laurels and past accomplishments. It truly must be a humbling experience. Humility builds character, and with that comes respect. Respect is earned through action and, at certain times, no action is the best action of all.
For Redskins rookie tight end Jordan Reed, humility throughout the team has surprised him and certainly made a big impression.
“Just how humble the guys are,” Reed told Sirius XM NFL Radio (via The Washington Post.) “Guys like RGIII and Santana Moss, guys that have been proven to be good players in the NFL. Everybody’s real humble and down-to-earth, and ready to work and keep growing and bring our team even past what we did last year. So that’s the thing that surprised me the most.”
Through their constant vigil, desire to learn and improve their game, it may strike a chord with veterans that they cannot take anything for granted in the NFL. Players can never get too big for their own britches—including veterans.
It is with that display of humility by these rookies that they don't know it all and need to learn. That veteran players may realize that they are in no position to assume their place on the roster or starting position is safe and secure.
With the help of Redskins defensive end Adam Carriker, there is no denying the fact rookies bring exuberance, excitement and a heightened level of energy to any NFL team.
"Rookies bring a youthful energy to the locker room," Carriker told me last week. "Veterans offer the leadership and counsel. I think in an NFL locker room you need a good combination of both to have good balance, which in effect will help the team on the field."
With this youthful energy comes an elevated desire to perform—and perform well. Rookies have waited their entire lives for an opportunity to showcase their talent on Sundays in the NFL. Backyard dreams have come true.
Veteran players can feed off of this energy which, in turn, may remind them they are still living the dream. They need to make the most out of the opportunity they have been given, and never forget how fortunate they are to be able to lace up their shoes, don their pads and put on their helmet to go play in an NFL game.
With the addition of rookies each year, some veterans may take a moment to reflect how far their career has come since their first season—remembering all the excitement, combined with nervous energy prior to walking on the field for their first NFL game.
That is something that cannot and should not be forgotten. NFL careers are already too short.
Study Hard, Play Hard
Veterans need to continue to learn the new plays in the team playbook, as offensive and defensive formations and personnel change daily, weekly and yearly.
All players need to constantly prove they deserve the starting spot and recognize the NFL is performance based. If at first you don't succeed, have a seat on the bench and watch how it is supposed to be done.
This applies to all aspects of studying the game—whether it is with the aforementioned playbook or during film study. The rookies have everything to gain by displaying their talents on the field and in the classroom.
An eagerness to learn will show, and that eagerness is contagious.
Veterans need to re-examine the playbook and watch game films with the intensity of the rookie who is learning for the first time. Every opposing roster has offseason additions, roster changes and replacements due to injury, so the playbook is constantly evolving.
In making the leap from college to the pros, rookie tight end Jordan Reed told CSN Washington May 24 it takes a lot of getting used to, especially the meetings.
"The biggest adjustment is probably all the time we spend in meetings," Reed explained. "We met a lot at (University of) Florida but not as much as we do here. We meet two times a day for a little while and I just have to get used to that and just keep learning and progressing."
No Room for Error
With a depth chart in place and players realizing where they rank at their designated position, veterans need to remember the rookie they are teaching or mentoring could be the person that is going to be replacing them in the future.
While this is an extreme example, veterans know from experience that on any given play an injury could occur. Depending on the severity, a few weeks or longer—even a season or career—could instantly become a reality.
A more realistic example is when a starter doesn't perform up to the level of performance of the person waiting in the wings. While a small percentage of rookies get the starting nod, others stand at the ready—clutching their helmet, waiting for the opportunity to enter the game.
Redskins rookie safety Bacarri Rambo told CSN Washington during the first week of Redskins organized team activities in May, this takes a lot of error-free work.
"You can't make no mistakes. You've got to be good at your techniques, just the small things that really count...You've got to know what everybody else is doing around you. You've got to know your playbook and know your plays and just hustle to the ball."
You can't get a game ball for last week's performance. Veterans certainly feel the presence of their replacement anxiously pacing the sideline, waiting for the opportunity to prove their worth to the team.
After all, in most cases the rookie was drafted with a certain role to fill, and it could be the veteran's slot he fills on any given Sunday. A pattern of mistakes by a veteran may lead to the big break for the rookie.
Knowledge of the Opponent
One advantage rookies have over veterans that can benefit the team from the players on up is knowledge of the coaches and/or players from their playing days together in college. For this example, I will focus on the coaches.
With so many coaches moving into the echelon of NFL assistants and coordinator positions, certain rookies may have been under their guidance and leadership while in school.
Although the Redskins do not have any of the following teams on the 2013 schedule, during rookie tight end Jordan Reed's time at Florida, the team's defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn, moved into the same position with the Seattle Seahawks.
Fourth-round draft pick, safety Phillip Thomas' secondary coach while he played at Fresno State, Tim McDonald, is now the defensive backs coach with the New York Jets.
The Redskins final pick in this year's NFL draft, Rutgers running back Jawan Jamison, had current Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano as his head coach during his freshman year at Rutgers.
Although the Redskins have a talented scouting team and a multi-camera film crew for game preparation against opponents, these three rookies know better than anybody in the organization what these coaches are like.
The rookies can pass the coach's mindset along to the veterans.
They know their former coach's style, preferences and "go to plays"—all of those things that only a rookie could know. Redskins veterans and coaches alike are fortunate, or even lucky, to have this rookie insight and inside information, which otherwise might not be available.
While much can be debated on this topic, and there is no taking away from the valuable lessons passed along from veterans to rookies, it was enough to make me wonder.
I had never really given it much thought, but it opened me up to an entire new way of thinking what the Redskins' incoming rookies can bring to the team that we don't have an opportunity to see on the field.
If nothing else, it gave me a new perspective on the complexities of the NFL, the expectations of every player on the team and the role a rookie plays in the formation of a solid 53-man roster come Week 1.
All things considered, it is a reminder why the NFL has been known to stand for "Not For Long" by fans for such a long time. For veterans and rookies, they should enjoy the ride while it lasts.
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