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Rookies Getting First Taste Of NFL Life

Getting ready to hit the practice field for the first time as Green Bay Packers on Friday afternoon, the 2010 draft class was admittedly nervous, and understandably so. But the mindset that gets them through it is that, hey, it’s still the same game. - More Friday Practice Photos


Head Coach Mike McCarthy (far left) watches the rookies conduct a ball-security drill during the first rookie orientation workout on Friday at the Don Hutson Center.

Getting ready to hit the practice field for the first time as Green Bay Packers on Friday afternoon, the 2010 draft class was admittedly nervous, and understandably so.

After all, they had received introductions to their gargantuan NFL playbooks in meetings earlier in the day, they were determined to make a strong first impression, and they were taking the field with teammates and coaches who were total strangers.

That's a lot to manage in a day's time, for sure. But the mindset that gets them through it is that, hey, it's still the same game.

"There's natural nerves because it's a new place, but when it comes down to it, it's football," said offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse, a fifth-round draft choice from TCU. "So that's kind of the calming effect. It's just, 'All right, I've been doing this for a while. I can do this.'"

They certainly can or they wouldn't have been among the Packers' seven draft choices last weekend.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy has used the rookie orientation weekend for the past few years as a way to get the rookies introduced to the Packers' way of doing things - in the classroom, on the practice field, and in the team facility in general - so that they aren't quite so overwhelmed or stressed when they start practicing with the veteran players in OTAs in a few weeks.

"It's just to make sure when this rookie group gets back on May 16 that they can really lock into their football responsibilities," McCarthy said.

The format has proven to be helpful, but nothing can totally eliminate those "welcome to the NFL" moments off the field that every player experiences. Like when they're first handed their playbooks.

"I got that book yesterday, and I said this looks like my biology book in college, and if you know anything about college biology, it's crazy," said defensive end Mike Neal, a second-round draft choice out of Purdue. "But the coach, he was reassuring that the defense is not that hard for a defensive lineman. You just need to know where you line up on the call, and you listen for the checks and see if any of them involve you, and then you just play football."

Seventh-round pick C.J. Wilson, a defensive end from East Carolina, likened the size of the playbook to "the phone book back home," but he knows the coaches will break things down in greater detail when the time is right.

The best approach is to find some things that make sense or look familiar at first glance, and build knowledge from there.

"There's a lot of stuff that's typical football stuff that just from place to place is called different things," Newhouse said. "It's just getting the terminology down and getting your head in it and studying it and making sure you know it backwards and forwards."

Speaking of directions, with a few dozen draft choices, free agents and tryout players all getting their bearings as far as where the locker rooms, meeting rooms, cafeteria and bathrooms are, it wasn't unusual to see some looking lost from time to time.

But the weekend is designed to get all of that out of the way now, sparing the rookies some of the grief they'd receive from veterans at their expense.

"It's like you're a zombie," said running back James Starks, a sixth-round pick out of Buffalo. "You don't know where you're going to go. It's college all over again."

It feels the same way on the field to some extent, but it's all valuable learning time.

"You get through these first rookie camp practices, you're going to find out a lot about yourself, what you can do and what you need to work on," Neal said.

"I was nervous before I got here, but the closer I get to practices, the more the nerves go away, because then you realize it's just football. This is what you've been doing for so long, and you just have to let your instincts take over and play the game."

{sportsad300}That's what the coaching staff wants to see. Other than for tryout players, who are battling for what may be a couple of free-agent contract offers at the end of the weekend, no serious decisions or evaluations are going to be made in three days.

That doesn't stop the rookies from trying to get off to a good start, but perspective is important too.

"I just want to go in and learn everything the coaches throw at us and try my best to play hard, play fast and just compete and enjoy it and have fun," said safety Morgan Burnett, a third-round draft choice out of Georgia Tech. "It's a lot thrown at you real fast, and it's a lot to pick up. But it's just part of it and I look forward to it."

Their NFL journey has begun.

"It's very nervous and exciting to get out there and run around," Wilson said. "The last time I had a helmet on was the Senior Bowl, so I'm ready to get back into it. I've been playing football since I was 9 years old, so this is what I do."

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