The NFL draft is over, but that doesn't mean the work is finished for NFL personnel departments. The draft being moved back two weeks changes the usual schedule. The first order of business will be rookie mini camps, followed by rookies joining their teams' offseason programs.
Rookie Mini Camps
Through last year, rookie mini camps had to take place within two weeks of the draft. That will change this year, as the majority of the rookie camps will be this weekend. Why? The draft has always been the last weekend in April, with a rookie mini camp usually slated for the following weekend. The rookies would come in and get a quick orientation, followed by two to three days of practice.
Those attending rookie mini camp are recent draft choices, signed undrafted rookie free agents and players invited to camp on a tryout basis. There might be as many as 20-25 players invited to try out, but very few get signed. It would be unusual to see more than two or three of the tryout players signed to a rookie contract with a club.
Rookie mini camps are very basic. There is a lot of individual drill work, followed by some 7-on-7 and 1-on-1 passing drills. With no contact allowed, there is seldom much full-team work and never any offensive line versus defensive line 1-on-1s.
Personnel departments use mini camp to evaluate their draft choices and the signed undrafted free agents. The evaluation process is more about finding out what kind of condition the players are in and what they need to work on once they start the offseason program.
The Offseason Program
In the past, rookies usually had time to go home after rookie mini camp to get ready for the offseason program. Once the rookies are involved in the offseason program, they work on a daily basis with each club's veteran players.
Because the draft was delayed, this year, when rookies report to their mini camp, they will stay through the duration of the offseason program and the OTAs in late June.
By league rule, no rookie can take part in the offseason program until after May 15. Even then, there are some restrictions. Players who begin work in the offseason program after May 15 must be finished with school for the semester.
The NFL mandates that if a rookie's school is still in session, he cannot report to the offseason program. If the player in question has already graduated, he can work out with his team. If he has not graduated, he must wait until the day after the last day of exams in his major program of study.
A large majority of schools are already done for the semester by now, but some schools on the quarter system will continuel until some time in June. The rookie players from those schools can only partake in the rookie mini camp but no other team activities, until that school closes out the quarter.
It doesn't matter if the player was not enrolled in classes this semester. The only thing that matters is if his school is in session, per an agreement between the NFL and the college coaches association.
Offseason programs include weight-room activities, classroom learning and on-field instruction. In addition to weight-room and on-field work, each rookie also goes through an orientation program set up and run by each club's player development staff.
The program can include lectures on finance, finding a place to live and how to act in public as a member of an NFL team. The program also sets up "field trips" to get the players acclimated to the area in which they will soon live.
At the end of June, all drafted players are required to attend the rookie symposium. This event lasts four or five days and deals with some of the same things that the orientation deals with, including how to be and act like a professional athlete.
OTAs usually begin some time in early June. Here, rookies join practices with team veterans. These practices are very similar to mini camp, where the players wear helmets but no pads, and no contact is allowed.
During OTAs and the on-field portion of the offseason program, the majority of a team's offense and defense is installed. OTAs are used for skill development and timing. During practices, both coaches and personnel departments evaluate their players' skills.
Both rookies and veteran players are evaluated on a daily basis during OTAs, and if the coach or GM feels a veteran is past his prime, he may cut the player before training camp begins. The same holds true for some of the undrafted free agents. If they look out of place, they usually don't make it to regular training camp.
Scouting Combine Meetings
Usually, around the last week of May, the two NFL scouting services (Blesto and National Football Scouting) hold their spring meetings. These are usually one-week affairs, during which each of the combine area scouts gives an oral presentation on every prospect in his assigned area.
Clubs always send the scouting director and player personnel director to these meetings, while some clubs will also send their area scouts.
These meetings effectively kick off the next scouting season. Prospect lists are distributed to each team, and the team's scouts can then get a feel for the value of the players in their area.
The only players reported on are in their final year of eligibility in the fall. Underclassmen who may be thinking about coming out for the draft are not discussed. The first time underclassmen will be talked about is after they declare for the next draft.
Each team has its own idea of how its scouts should work during the summer. For almost all scouts some much-needed vacation time is cashed in. When they choose to get back to work, they watch tape on prospects in their area to get a feeling for those prospects' ability.
I always had the scouts on my staff do two things during June and July.
The first thing I would have them do is watch tape of players from smaller schools who may be potential NFL prospects. I have them do this for one main reason: I don't want a scout wasting his time making a school call on a player who is not a legitimate prospect. If, after watching three or four games, the scout feels the player is a solid prospect, he will schedule a school call for the fall. If he doesn't like the player's traits, the scout can reject the player altogether.
The other thing I had scouts do during the summer downtime was to call the coaches of their top prospects and begin to investigate the character of those players. During the college season, coaches don't have much time to discuss their players. During the summer months, I have found that they are much more available to have a lengthy conversation.
The information a scout can gather during the summer becomes invaluable once he gets to the busy fall schedule.
While the summer may feel like downtime to the fans, there is still plenty of work being done. Scouting is an ongoing 12-month cycle. Now that the 2014 draft is over, it's time to begin work for 2015.
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