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To Rookies: Prepare For 'Blur'

Posted May 14, 2014

It’s a blur. There is no other way to describe the experience for an NFL rookie. Anyone who thinks the transition is made gradually is in for a rude awakening. The exact opposite is true …

It’s a blur. There is no other way to describe the experience for an NFL rookie. Anyone who thinks the transition is made gradually is in for a rude awakening. The exact opposite is true …

Think about the life of Marcus Smith for a moment. He learned late on Thursday night that the Eagles made him the 26th pick in the first round of the NFL Draft. At 3 p.m. on Friday, he had boarded a plane and landed at Philadelphia International Airport before being whisked around the NovaCare Complex on a media tour and a brief stop with various executives in the Eagles organization.

Smith was then hustled back to the airport to take an 8:30 p.m. flight back to the campus of the University of Louisville. He arrived there after midnight, grabbed some sleep and lined up for graduation ceremonies at 9:30 a.m.

By noon Smith had received his diploma, celebrated for the afternoon, and then headed home to pack up some belongings for another trip to Philadelphia.

Smith and his fellow rookies in the Class of 2014 arrived in Philadelphia on Sunday night, were taken to a nearby hotel and given the rundown on the week to follow as they begin their professional careers in the NFL.

A few days into the life, Smith and his rookies have a sense of what it’s going to be like. The pace is frantic. The expectations are very high. Never is a player to be late for a meeting. Conditioning sessions are conducted with maximum intensity. Meetings are demanding. The pace does not slow until the season ends.

Welcome to the Eagles, rookies. You see how fast head coach Chip Kelly moves? He’s a mile-a-minute coach who maximizes every minute of the day, and that’s how the Eagles operate. So if you want to make it here, you need to stay ahead of the pace.

And it isn’t easy.

“It goes so fast, man,” said Lane Johnson, the team’s 2013 first-round draft pick who started every game as a rookie and played outstanding football at right tackle. “Once you get used to it, it actually works to your benefit. You don’t have to go through what you did in college where you had to focus on both your schoolwork and football. It was a different kind of pressure at Oklahoma. We would get off the practice field and I would still have work to do for school.

“Here, it’s all business. Football is the only focus. It made things better for me. I’m married, so I didn’t have interest in the nightlife or anything like that. I got in my playbook and I took care of my body and I felt fresh the whole season. I never hit a wall. I know it’s not like that for a lot of guys, but for me I feel like I got stronger toward the end of the season.”

Johnson’s maturity helped tremendously in his rookie season. Some rookies are swallowed up in the expectations and in the glare of the spotlight, and others need time to adjust to the lifestyle change and the sudden change in finances. Beyond that, the rookies are suddenly in a world of grown men and the cultural is dramatically different than it was in college.

Added up, a rookie season can be a washout if a player isn’t prepared for the pace, intensity and demands.

“You find out right away that this is a business and there isn’t any tolerance for falling behind,” said 2013 second-round draft pick Zach Ertz, who had to play catch up last year when he missed all of last spring’s Organized Team Activities due to an NCAA rule that required him to wait until his Stanford class graduated. “It’s extremely fast paced. There is a reason for everything the coaches do and for what they ask from a player.

“There isn’t any way to know how fast it is until you go through it. You have to make football your entire focus.”

How much a rookie contributes is often tied to how he handles the NFL’s day-to-day workload. Just because, for example, the day of practice and meetings are over doesn’t mean a rookie can relax. Some of the most important moments are those spent alone with a playbook in off hours.

“All the time,” said Ertz. “You need to know the playbook.”

Smith has a taste for what’s expected of him. He’s experienced a week like none he will ever again have in his life. From first-round draft pick to college graduate to professional football player thrown square into the action of an NFL offseason – and we haven’t even reached the point of two-a-day practices or the media responsibilities or the physical and mental demands of the seven-day regular season cycle.

“I can look back and say I enjoyed the experience, but it did go by quickly,” said Johnson. “Having gone through it, I’m ready for the season. I know what to expect. It’s hard. You have to be mentally prepared to go 100 percent. There really are no days off in this league. That’s probably the first thing you learn when you come to the NFL. If you don’t bring it, you aren’t going to be here long.”

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