During their first NFL offseason, most rookies are like salmon swimming upstream, fighting the current and dodging other obstacles. The rough waters at the ContinuityX Training Center in Earth City currently contain the playbook, a higher level of competition and an attention to detail each and every minute, both in meetings and on the field.
Some Rams rookies will definitely struggle to learn, experiencing mental errors and most likely taking time to settle into their new environment. Eventually, though, the positional skill sets and athletic abilities that they displayed in college will start to jump out as they get more and more comfortable.
On Tuesday, running back Steven Jackson was asked which rookies had already made an impression on him. While Jackson wished to hold judgment until August or September, in the interest of fairness, he specifically challenged first-year wide receiver Brian Quick to prepare himself over the next six weeks.
Quick, of course, isn’t the only outside-the-numbers threat looking to make waves immediately upon arrival. Quarterback Sam Bradford will also have Wake Forest product Chris Givens at his disposal. Yesterday, however, Bradford evaluated the team’s pair of prized rookie cornerbacks, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson.
“I think they’re both going to be pretty good players,” Bradford said. “Jenkins is instinctual, he has made a lot of plays on the ball. I think purely on instincts, he seems to have a knack of being around the football.
“Trumaine, he’s a bigger kid; he really seems to have some range. Throwing one-on-ones against him yesterday, he was stride for stride with Givens. Givens can absolutely move, so I’ve been very impressed with both of those players so far.”
Impressive initial showings aside, the squad’s rookies acknowledge the various challenges of entering the professional ranks and what must be done to ensure representative minicamp and training camp showings.
“Coming out here (practice), you don’t want to mess up reps,” Quick said. “That kind of slowed me up. Now I’m just moving. I’ve been in my playbook, which I was all the time. OTAs, I tried not to mess up. I was thinking a lot, but now I’m moving faster, I know the plays now, it’s time to pick it up. Every day I come out here to get better, I want to be that guy that helps the team.
“I didn’t have one (a playbook) in college. We were a spread offense and didn’t huddle. The playbook is bigger and a lot to contain. I can do it. It’s not really hard, but it is a challenge.”
“Now that this process (NFL draft) is over, we can get back to playing football and have fun,” running back Isaiah Pead said. “You’re a pro now, there are no more open windows for downtime, and we’re here, here, here. The schedule is really tight. We’re all adapting to it and helping each other through the playbook. It’s been good.”
“I’m feeling pretty good,” echoed first-round selection Michael Brockers. “Everything is coming pretty smooth now. At first I was hit with a lot of different plays, hit with a lot of different techniques, but as I go on all these OTAs and minicamps stuff like that, feel like I’m getting better and better every day.”
The defensive tackle admitted that a necessary transition period occurred between workouts in preparation for the draft and OTAs.
“The adjustment from that to the little minicamp (rookies only), it was tough,” Brockers said. “It was hard. I was tired, I was sweating profusely, it was crazy. But as much football as I’ve been playing in these OTAs, I’m feeling pretty good. I’m not getting too winded out there, I understand what I had to do, and I had to play my part.”
Givens and a few of the rookies spent time away from the OTA sessions to attend the Rookie Premiere, put on in Los Angeles by the NFLPA, which produced some mixed emotions.
“It was a little bit of both, you know,” Givens said. “I hated being away just because how much I love football, but at the same time we had to be there, so it was just fun being around the guys, getting to enjoy the experience and met some of the former NFL players and NFLPA, and just learning about how to be a pro in this game both on and off the field.”
For his part, Givens confessed that he still has much learning to do.
“Probably the biggest difference for me,” he said, “is being one of the guys and not being the main guy on offense. Having to prove myself all over again in learning the plays, running the right routes and not making any mental errors. Showing up and being a complete receiver, taking what I did in college and building on it at the next level.”
Up front, ex-South Carolina standout Rokevious Watkins praised the guidance handed down by one of the many new members of the coaching staff, offensive line coach Paul Boudreau.
“He has pretty much simplified the game for us,” Watkins said. “A lot of times we can come into a situation like this, with everything going on, and get overwhelmed and forget about it’s just football. So he’s done a good job and still doing a good job of teaching us football, simplifying it for us to get it the best way we can.”
Any opportunity to streamline the learning process is no doubt a great boon for these hard-working rookies, who remain focused and determined to help the Rams regain traction in 2012. The 53-man roster will be loaded with rookies as starters, backups and special-teamers. As the youngest team in the NFL, it will be fun watching this group grow up right before our eyes.