Lots to learn for NFL rookies on and off field

Lots to learn for NFL rookies on and off field
September 20, 2013, 2:00 pm
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FOXBORO – On Wednesday, when discussing the urgency of getting things right, Tom Brady mentioned that players have to remember “this is a real job.”

Why would they have to be reminded of that? Because, for several of them, this may be the first real job they’ve ever had. And this is a job that heretofore has always been play.

Managing young players – making sure they have the support to make the transition from college football and professional football – is a chore that consumes a good deal of time among the Patriots coaching staff.

It covers a wide range of topics. From adjusting to on-field demands – playing special teams, reduced reps – to private or practical issues like driving in the snow.

“I’ve heard many times as a coach, ‘Well, I wish I had known this,’ or ‘I wish I had realized that,’ or ‘I didn’t really know that (from rookie players),’” Bill Belichick explained. “They still don’t know, but at least we try to do a better job than I did back when I was with the Giants. You’ve heard that so many times from those young guys that you tell them, ‘Look, this is the way it’s going to be. This is what you need to be ready for. This is what’s going to happen. This is how this is going to work. This is how you need this. This is how you need to do that.’ It doesn’t mean it’s going to be perfect but at least they’ve been warned ahead of time, they have an idea of what to expect.”

Take a couple of the first-year players in the spotlight – and crosshairs – right now. Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. They are in the midst of their first job. Football, girls and video games are their main concerns. Now, they are key players for the most talked-about franchise in the NFL. A Hall of Fame quarterback tore them new orifices last week. Life is quite different.

And after the initial conversation, the conversations have to continue, Belichick explained.

“A lot of times, you come back and say, ‘OK, this is what we talked about. Did it happen about the way you thought it would? The way we talked about it?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Well, what was different?’ ‘I didn’t expect this or I didn’t expect that.’ Then we talk about that and move on to the next thing. It’s a long season for these guys. There are a lot of hills to climb, not just one. So it’s a rollercoaster. Each week is a new challenge and really each day is a new challenge. I think the better you can prepare them for it, the better chance they have to meet it,” he said.

The Patriots have a fleet of young players on this year's team and one of the NFL’s youngest rosters. Does that make the challenge any greater?

“It doesn’t make any difference,” he said. “It’s the same whether you’re talking to five guys, 10 guys or 15 guys. It’s the same conversation. Maybe there are more or less of them but it’s the same. The five guys haven’t been through it any more than the 15 guys have been through it. A lot of little things. Really, most of our guys aren’t from this area of the country. A lot of them come from the South, some from the Midwest, some from the West. It’s a different lifestyle, it’s a different climate. There are a lot of things that are different up here. Just generally getting around, just doing normal things, particularly as we go deeper into the season. It’s all part of the transition.”

This topic is especially intriguing right now given the situation with Aaron Hernandez. Three years ago, he was on the receiving end of the tutelage. Didn’t take. And that exists around the league whether it’s Aldon Smith or Von Miller.

Managing young men who are plunked down far from home and have greater financial means and unsupervised downtime is an obligation for teams in order to protect their investments and because it’s the right thing to do.