Training Camp has not started, but the Green Bay Packers' rookies already have received a preview of the challenges presented by a long career in the NFL.
All 255 drafted rookies, including the 11 members of the Packers' 2005 draft class, attended the Rookie Symposium in West Palm Beach, Fla., from June 26 to June 29. The seminar covered topics including player agents, finances, education, drugs and steroids, alcohol and HIV prevention.
"The goal is to make them aware of all the things that are going to come about in their life as an NFL player and to give them some strategies to change things that may come about in their life," said Turner Gill, the Packers' director of player development, who accompanied the rookies to the symposium. "They hit almost every topic."
The NFL delivered the message through lectures, breakout sessions, skits, player panels and a trivia contest.
Experts in the field lectured on various topics while two of the notable speakers included former defensive tackle Darrell Russell, who talked about his troubled past, and wide receiver Cris Carter, who addressed a wide range of issues.
After each speaker, the NFL conducted a breakout session where the rookies would discuss the lecture subjects. That portion of the seminar served as a highlight for Gill and many of the players as they learned more about their teammates, their families and the challenges they have overcome.
"We got to sit together face-to-face in a circle with just us - nobody else - and get to know a lot about each other and learn how each other thinks," said wide receiver Terrence Murphy, a second-round pick out of Texas A&M. "It made us a lot closer."
The NFL also conducted role-playing skits. After acting out a situation, experts in the field would stop to question the rookies on the best way to handle such an event. One skit involved a friend insisting on driving drunk. The players suggested ways to prevent that person from endangering his life. The actors then showed other possible approaches.
The skits did have moments of levity.
"They had little jokes in there, but they also had a meaning," said safety Marviel Underwood, a fourth-round pick from San Diego State. "It was funny, but a lot of people related to it."
A panel of players including New York Jets center Kevin Mawae, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates and Atlanta Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall spoke about life skills, their experiences as NFL players and the transition from college to the pro ranks.
Underwood enjoyed listening to a fellow defensive back in Hall. Having gone through the transition from college standout to NFL rookie last year, he offered some helpful advice.
"It's going to be a change to have all that money and dealing with the different speed on the field," Underwood said.
Aside from the information they learned, the players enjoyed catching up with fellow rookies and former teammates.
Murphy talked with many of the receivers he bonded with during February's NFL Scouting Combine. Underwood chatted up a college teammate, Oakland Raiders linebacker Kirk Morrison, and is still getting used to the idea of Morrison wearing the silver and black.
"It's kind of cool but a little weird," he said.
NFL executive vice president for labor relations Harold Henderson wrapped up the symposium with the Ultimate Rookie Challenge, quizzing the rookies on football trivia and topics covered during the seminar.
Throughout the symposium, the rookies not only learned life skills but also where to turn if a problem arises.
"There are resources available to help them with all the processes and numbers they can call for the drafted players in every aspect of their life," Gill said.