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Insider Blog: Freshman Orientation

Posted Apr 30, 2010

Rookie mini-camp is a learning experience for the Chiefs newest faces

Remember freshman orientation? You likely went through one in high school or college, or maybe both for that matter. That’s what this weekend represents in Kansas City, but instead of a campus tour the Chiefs rookies will be getting a dose of what life is like in the NFL.

A word of advice: leave your college accomplishments at home, because they don’t matter at this level. Everything resets.

Rookie mini-camp officially begins this afternoon at the Chiefs Training Facility, a three-day event which is more about prep-work than anything. A new chapter in each player’s football career will officially begin when OTAs open on May 17th, but this is the weekend that prepares the franchise’s newest faces to hit the ground running in mid-May.

This is how head coach Todd Haley described the weekend a year ago…

“First and foremost, we are trying to orientate them to what we are doing, what to expect to give them (which is) a briefing to what is in store and what is ahead of them, the conditioning, the strength portion, to give them a little taste of the system,” Haley said. “We don’t want them doing too much so they can’t even function. If you throw the whole playbook at them they are not going to be able to practice, it’s not possible.

“It’s more to orientate them to what we are doing, what we are about, but at the same time not putting too much in their laps and getting a chance to look at them physically and up close in personal in the pads running around,” Haley continued. “Also it’s seeing if they are able to comprehend what we are asking of them and seeing if they are able to turn that into doing it the right way.

This weekend is a time of transition, because things work much differently at this level. What a player may have thought was correct in college, may be completely wrong in the eyes of Haley and the rest of the Chiefs coaching staff. A perfect example of this occurred during last year’s rookie camp.

Haley was new to the city at the time, and few in the area had seen his coaching style outside of the Cardinals run to Super Bowl XLIII. When Haley stepped on to the Chiefs practice field that weekend, it represented one of his first on-field workouts as Kansas City’s head football coach. The experience was new to both the players participating in the workout and to the media members observing practice.

Many in attendance that weekend can recall what happened with 2009 sixth-round pick WR Quinten Lawrence. Lawrence bobbled a football during the team period of practice, which ultimately wound up in the hands of a defender for a pick-six. In short, Haley was hot. The height of his voice left no debate as to his feelings about the play.

But Haley wasn’t upset about what most would have thought – the dropped ball that turned into an interception. It was what Lawrence did after the interception that had Haley fuming.

As soon as the football was picked off, Lawrence dropped to the ground and started doing push-ups. This action is a common self-discipline technique utilized at the college level, and it was probably what he and his teammates at McNeese State had been taught to do since he entered the program as a freshman. To Lawrence, immediately dropping to the turf and doing push-ups probably seemed like the right thing to do.

Not in the NFL.

Haley’s not-so-subtle point was that receivers must turn into defenders once an interception occurs. One mistake had been made with the turnover, but there was no reason to multiply that mishap with six points on the board in the aftermath; even if it is just practice.

After that play, the coach had made his point and Lawrence, along with the rest of the rookie class, took notice. There were probably many rookies at the practice who would have done the same thing had they been in Lawrence’s shoes during the play, but now they knew not to do that…and they didn’t. Lawrence didn’t either.

The story of “the drop” from last year’s rookie camp is just a small example of the many things that each rookie will have to learn as they transition into the NFL way of doing things. Teaching those rookies how things are done at this level is what this weekend is all about, because when May 17th hits its full-steam ahead whether the newbie’s are on board or not.

Hang on; it’s going to be a ride.

When these players leave on Sunday, the message will likely be similar to the one that Haley left in the heads of the 2009 class upon exciting Kansas City.

“That is what I tried to point out - it is serious business,” Haley said nearly a year ago. “They will be 28 workouts behind when they come onto campus so they need to understand the severity of their situation. Just to give themselves an equal chance to compete they can’t waste a day. When they go back to school they have to be working out and once they get here they have to have to put the pedal to the metal.

“If they don’t, they are not going to have an equal chance to compete because they are already behind,” Haley continued. “It is an important situation to understand.”

Look for updates from rookie camp throughout the weekend on kcchiefs.com

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