Last Year's Rookies Adjust Less, Improve More In 2nd Camp

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It is often said that the biggest jump an athlete will make is from his first season to his second.

If that is indeed true, it bodes well for a Packers team that had as many as five rookie starters at times in 2006.

But there must be more to it than that. There has to be rationale behind the cliché. And in talking to members of the 2006 draft class about the first few days of training camp this year compared to last, they all believe their projected improvement begins with a comfort level about how training camp itself works.

"Obviously when you're new to something, you don't really know what to expect," said linebacker A.J. Hawk, the team's first-round draft pick last year. "This year I had an idea of what was coming next, what we were working on, and what we're trying to get out of it.

"I think that's the biggest thing. Now I understand why we're doing certain drills and what we want to get out of it, and that helps. Because obviously the number one goal here is to get better and win games."

Knowing what to expect encompasses several things. It's knowing the routine of practice, such as when the individual position drills are coming, and when the team (11-on-11) periods will take place.

It's knowing the speed of the game, not still having to adjust from the college level to the pros. And it's knowing how much the coaches are going to demand during any given practice or any given drill.

It all adds up to being able to gain more from, or sometimes just get through, each grueling practice.

"You know when things are going to happen, it's not just jumping at you," said offensive lineman Tony Moll, a fifth-round pick in 2006. "I don't know how to really explain it, but when you know what's coming it's not such a blow to you. You know when you can catch your breath or get some water, and when you just need to grind it out. It makes such a difference when you don't get fatigued as much."

In addition to less physical fatigue, there's also far less mental exhaustion. In their first training camp, rookies heads are usually spinning with signing their first contract, learning the playbook, watching extensive film, and getting to know their teammates and coaches.

It's why a promising rookie like running back Brandon Jackson drops a couple of passes out of the backfield in his first practice. Or why converted fullback Korey Hall misses his blocking assignment in a blitz drill.

It's not that the rookies don't have the physical skills to do the job. If they didn't, they wouldn't be on the roster in the first place. It's that they're so mentally taxed trying to learn everything for the first time that the physical execution can suffer at times.

"Last year, you get thrown into the fire, you didn't really know what was going on and had to learn on the run," said receiver Greg Jennings, a 2006 second-rounder. "Versus this year, you're more relaxed, so you're more poised.

"You're comfortable with the scheme, and you've developed a rapport with the guys. You know what they expect of you, you know what to expect of them."

{sportsad300}Jennings was one of the few rookies a year ago who looked more like a veteran from the early days of training camp. But even he admitted it was a daunting adjustment, and he tried to physically prepare by working out during the last couple of weeks before camp began.

It didn't really hurt him, because Jennings held up well physically until his ankle injury in the sixth game of the season. But he took a much more "veteran" approach to getting ready for training camp this season.

"Last year it was go-go-go-go, and I was kind of wearing my body down and didn't even know it," Jennings said. "I wouldn't say I regretted it, but it definitely wore on my body.

"Going into this year, I knew what (camp) was like, so I said 'Let me take it easy these days, or this week,' so I can have fresh legs. I'm being a lot smarter about taking care of my body. You gain experience with the little things."

For Jennings, another "little thing" would be a better feel for Brett Favre and continuing to develop those intangible connections quarterbacks and receivers must have. For linemen like Moll and fellow 2006 rookies Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz, it would be the chemistry and cohesion with their linemates, an equally important aspect at that position.

"Your teammates are the main guys you need to be comfortable with, and we've got a great group of guys here, especially the guys I work with mainly on defense," Hawk said. "I think we all get along, on and off the field, very well. You can tell when you're playing that we're working together, and when we're playing good it's because we're communicating and getting along."

All of that happens much easier, and sooner, in Year 2 for any player. It makes training camp less about learning and more about improving, which is what the Packers are counting on in 2007.

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