Scouting the Bears
4:02 PM CDT, July 21, 2012
Don't let an NFL rookie tell you he isn't nervous about reporting to his first pro training camp. Don't even entertain the idea. In fact, laugh it off.
He's lying to you.
This stuff is no joke. Make it through minicamp and OTAs? Big deal. That's a walk-through compared to the hitting of August football in the NFL. This is where jobs are won and paychecks are earned.
And the veterans have no time — or patience — to wait around for you, rookie.
I was there during my first camp with the Rams in 2000. A plane flight out of O'Hare to St. Louis, a seat on the bus for the trip up to Western Illinois University in Macomb, an issued playbook and a dorm key.
Was I nervous? Heck yes.
And I would expect Shea McClellin, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Hardin, Evan Rodriguez and the rest of the Bears rookies to feel the same way as they prep for camp to open this week at Olivet Nazarene in Bourbonnais.
Forget about singing your school fight song in front of the team at the chow hall or carrying a veteran's pads after practice. That's standard. I'm talking about the level of competition you will face in every snap, drill and team exercise during a training camp practice.
You want to make this team? Then you have to take a job from someone else. And there aren't many to go around.
It's not easy. Actually, it can be quite miserable at times in the heat, oblivious to what's happening in the outside world. You will be sore, sick, dehydrated and walk around campus with a dull headache for the majority of your time at camp.
Injured? That can't happen as a rookie. You have to play through a tweak, a strain, a slight pull or a bad bruise. When you spend time in the training room, camp passes you by.
Miss a day? Might as well miss three. Miss a week watching from the sideline? Well, you then become a ghost. Time that can't be made up.
Those correction periods from the offseason? The slow, teaching sessions in shorts up at Halas Hall? Those are gone. You are expected to know the playbook, your assignments and prepare for each practice like a pro.
There isn't enough time in camp for a coach to hold your hand. Practice is fast paced and the meetings are spent teaching technique based off the film and moving on to the next page in the playbook.
A constant cycle of information is being thrown on your plate — and you have to digest it pretty quickly.
The vets? They will challenge you and find out how much you can take. Plus, they want to see if you will compete and fight back.
Nothing is handed out in the NFL. You have to earn their respect. Show a guy who has 10 years in the league that you can play, hold your own and knock him down. If you don't, he will keep coming after you.
Did I struggle? No question. There were vets who put me on my can routinely the first week and multiple times when I couldn't catch up to the speed of Isaac Bruce or Torry Holt.
But I also needed it.
The same goes for these Bears rookies. They won't be perfect and they will make mistakes when they put the pads on. Their bodies will hurt, their legs will feel heavy and camp will beat them down at times.
However, if they want to make this team and fit in the puzzle of the 53-man roster that opens up at Soldier Field against the Colts, then they must find a way to survive camp.
And that's never easy when you are a rookie in the NFL.
Special contributor Matt Bowen, who played at Glenbard West and Iowa, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety. You also can find his work at nationalfootballpost.com.
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