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Rookie Class Prepares For NFL's Realities

Posted May 8, 2017

There is one level of challenge for the Eagles’ eight draft picks and the yet-to-be-signed class of undrafted rookies to reach the NFL. Hooray and congratulations to all of them. It is a significant accomplishment. Now comes the really hard part: Staying here ...

There is one level of challenge for the Eagles’ eight draft picks and the yet-to-be-signed class of undrafted rookies to reach the NFL. Hooray and congratulations to all of them. It is a significant accomplishment. Now comes the really hard part: Staying here.

What’s ahead for the Eagles' rookies starting on Thursday night when they visit the NovaCare Complex again – in the case of first-round pick Derek Barnett and those rookies who visited the Eagles’ headquarters prior to the draft – and see it for the first time is a dizzying, non-stop buffet of information.

It can be overwhelming.

“You have to be on your toes,” said second-year cornerback Jalen Mills, a seventh-round draft pick last year who had his hands full. “You have to be alert. It is very fast and they give you so much to know as far as the playbook. If you think you can come in and get by on natural talent only, you are really going to struggle.”

Mills had the entire experience last year after the Eagles drafted him. He had to address, repeatedly and with great patience and understanding, a 2014 arrest during which he was charged with second-degree battery of a woman in his apartment complex while Mills played at LSU. It wasn’t just a one-day media responsibility, either, and Mills handled his obligation with professionalism all the way through.

Then it was on to football, and Mills made the climb from a long-shot seventh-round draft pick to participate in 65 percent of the defensive snaps in 2016. Now, Mills is in line to potentially start in his second season.

“Everything moved so fast. It’s been a blur,” Mills said at the end of his rookie season. “I’m looking forward to catching my breath.”

That’s the general reaction from rookies: It’s a blur. From the instant they arrive in Philadelphia and are picked up at the airport and brought to the NovaCare Complex, the pace is fast and the depth of information needed, at every level, is furious.

“I spent most of my season in the playbook or at the Complex working,” guard Isaac Seumalo said. “It’s all you do. It’s a business. This is my job. I need to be on top of everything to have the kind of success I want to have.”

The 2017 Rookie Class meets at the NovaCare Complex on Thursday to go through a variety of essential steps. They must be fitted for their practice helmets, equipment, and jerseys. They meet with their position coaches and are given scripts – scheme introduction – that they will need to know for the practices Friday through Sunday. Head coach Doug Pederson will address the group as one. Dinner is served. Vans to the hotel are running at exact times.

And when a player goes back to his hotel room, he isn’t likely to turn on his favorite television show for Thursday night. No way.

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“I guess I really didn’t do much at all except study my playbook and learn the verbiage,” quarterback Carson Wentz said. “The amount of information that you have to learn is crazy. You are expected to have it down and know it the next day. There isn’t a whole lot of time to relax and catch up with friends or go out. You are here to play football and help the team.”

What makes it even more real is that once the players report for work, they are no longer “first-round picks” or “undrafted rookies.” They are all Eagles, and they are all judged by their preparedness and their understanding that the world of the NFL moves at breakneck speed. You learn right away that you report to meetings early. You get to the practice field on time. You eat right. You make sure to get your sleep.

And, above all, if you don’t know your playbook, there is simply no way you can succeed on the football field.

“It’s been a crazy few months for me,” 2017 first-round draft pick Derek Barnett said after the Eagles made him the 14th overall selection. “I’m going to enjoy this now, and when I get back home to Tennessee I’m going to get back into the gym and get ready. You do so many meetings and dinners with teams that you miss a workout or two, and so I have a lot to catch up on.

“I know this about what’s ahead for me: It’s going to be hard work. I love hard work and I’m excited about it. But everyone I’ve talked to who plays in the NFL, or who tried to play in the NFL, tells me there is no way to prepare for it. You just have to be ready to commit yourself to doing what needs to be done to have success. Study the playbook, work hard, and listen to veterans who have been through it. I can’t wait. I’m so excited to get started with the Eagles.”

Good thing that Barnett has the right attitude. The clock starts ticking on Thursday night, and it doesn’t stop until the season is over.

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