Throughout their first seasons in the NFL, the majority of rookies are reminded (daily) that they aren’t on scholarship anymore. The game is faster, the demands are much greater and the talent level surpasses anything they’ve seen on the field in the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, etc.
And although Eddie Lacy, Keenan Allen and Sheldon Richardson produced in their first year on the field, the upcoming offseason is crucial for players who struggled to show consistency and pro-level technique as rookies in 2013.
Today, let’s discuss why second-year players can make the necessary developmental jump by taking a professional approach this offseason in the weight room, on the field and in their film study.
Football-Specific Strength and Conditioning
The stopwatch sells during the draft process, and that forces incoming rookies to spend most of their training time drilling the 40-yard dash, three-cone drill, short shuttle (5-10-5), etc.
Players will lean out, drop weight and get into “testing shape” to post solid numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine and at their pro days back on campus.
But while these pro hopefuls are looking to turn a 4.5 40 into a 4.45 time in Indianapolis, they aren’t in a football-specific lifting/running program like the veterans in the offseason.
This shows up on the field during minicamp and OTAs as rookies lack the proper football conditioning to compete. And while they are thrown into a pro-strength program during the spring, these young players struggle to catch up to the veterans.
However, that first offseason provides these second-year players the opportunity to train like pros. They can begin to work on functional football movements in the weight room—Olympic lifting, for example—while improving their conditioning, lateral speed and linear speed out on the field.
And with the extended offseason provided by the new collective bargaining agreement, these second-year players should arrive for the offseason program in excellent football shape to compete on a consistent basis with established veterans.
The key is finding a demanding strength/conditioning program that fits your needs as a player and showing the dedication to improve your core strength, flexibility and power.
Offseason Technique Work
During the 2013 offseason, I watched Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery go through OTAs up at Halas Hall and immediately noticed a difference in his route-running ability compared to what showed on the film during his rookie season.
Jeffery displayed better footwork, better body control and produced sharp angles coming out of his breaks to go get the football. He showed pro-style technique that allowed him to develop into one of the game’s top playmakers this past season in Marc Trestman’s offense.
And that should be expected from second-year pros.
Instead of worrying about where to line up or what time meetings start at the facility, these players can focus on the overall technique that is required to compete against the league’s top talents.
In the offseason, individual drills are extended on the field during OTAs and minicamp, and that provides these players with adequate time to work on their footwork, hands, hips, etc., with their position coaches.
Plus, the facility is open every day to grab a teammate and go to work on the field.
Whether that is a young quarterback like Tampa's Mike Glennon working with receivers, a defensive back such as the Jets’ Dee Milliner drilling his footwork in off-man or an offensive/defensive lineman practicing their hand placement at the point of attack, the time spent on the field is vital to the development of these players.
And without the stress of pro days, these second-year pros can actually focus on what really wins in the NFL: technique.
At the core of productive players in the NFL is the ability to self-scout and improve their game off the tape.
This provides second-year pros with the opportunity to study their own technique, leverage, eyes, etc., while also breaking down the corrections that need to be made in order to become a consistent player.
These players should study how opponents targeted them, focus on the situations where they got beat and begin to look at the top guys at their respective position to learn from the best.
What makes these top-level pros successful, and can you copy (or steal) their footwork, mechanics, etc.?
Plus, the offseason is a time to study the game itself. From the perspective of a defensive back, what do wide receiver splits tell you? How about personnel groupings? When can you expect the deep ball compared to a Hi-Lo concept based on formation and alignment?
It’s all there on the tape.
In the NFL, coaching staffs don’t wait around for rookies in the regular season while game plans are being put together. But in the offseason, there is plenty of time to turn on the tape, self-scout and begin to understand how the pro game works.
It's a valuable tool that can be lost in the transition from college to the NFL as rookies just try to survive the process.
The Expected Developmental “Jump”
Based on my experience in the NFL, you should expect these second-year players to be much more productive in 2014.
Whether that is the time spent training with functional football movements, a dedication to improving technique or the ability to make the corrections off the tape, these guys should arrive at offseason programs around the league this spring prepared to play ball.
No more 40-yard dashes or combine prep. It’s time to be a pro now. And the players who focus on improving their overall game will be ready to produce at the NFL level this season.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.