Last week, the 2016 Rookie Class for the Raiders had a chance to learn a lot about life as professional football player, on and off the gridiron. They had a chance to meet with experts from a wide variety of fields, hearing from leaders at LinkedIn, MADD, Nordstrom, and many others, in addition to enjoying bonding experiences with teammates such as bowling and grocery shopping.
One of the most important figures to speak to the rookies was current NFL Network analyst and former Raiders defensive back Bucky Brooks. Brooks jumped at the chance to speak to the newest batch of Raiders, hoping to explain to them exactly what to expect in their first NFL Training Camp, preseason, and regular season. He held nothing back and didn't sugarcoat things for the rookies, but he also offered some invaluable advice to help them take on the upcoming challenges that they will face – here are some of his takeaways about life in the first year as an NFL player:
Football Has To Be A Top Priority
Brooks touted family and religion as the most important things in life, but outside of those, football has to be Priority No. 1 – the players who make it a long time are absolutely committed to their crafts.
Find A Mentor, But Be Selective
Finding someone to emulate and learn from is paramount, but making sure that you choose the right mentor is also key. There are so many good players in the league, but it's important to select a mentor who isn't only a great performer, but someone who practices great habits as well.
Use The Next Four Weeks To Get In Top Shape
When players aren't physically ready, they get tired and then make mental mistakes that nobody can afford -- especially the team. He advised the rookies to not allow that to happen by not taking the "off" weeks before camp seriously.
Preparation Is Everything
"This game can bring king's rewards, but for a king's ransom. You have to prepare, prepare, prepare." While mistakes were okay as rookies learned the ropes in Rookie Minicamp and OTAs, once camp begins, the expectation is that everyone knows their responsibilities inside and out. For every drill, formation, and play, rookies need to know what they need to do and where to be.
It's okay to be unsure of things, but not okay to not address issues. Coaches will be more upset at players who don't know their job more than most anything else, so if something is unclear, players need to ask questions. When the answers are given, take notes, take notes, and then take more notes.
Be A Star In Your Role**
Even if a player's role is being a gunner, a returner, or a fourth-string corner, the objective is the same: be great at it. The goal is to help the team in any way possible -- that's the only way to get noticed. Players shouldn't worry about trying to be a hero or being great at multiple positions, just great in whatever role is assigned to them.
Take Your Limited Reps Seriously
Opportunities are not equal, but they are fair -- coaches and GMs want the best 53-man roster, period. While a player may only get 10% of the reps as third or fourth-teamer, they have to make plays in those reps to get noticed. Draft status goes out the window (Brooks talked about being cut as a second-round pick) once camp starts and it's all about performance.
Block Out The Noise
Players have to be so, so mentally tough to succeed in this league. Everyone sees the headlines and hears the talk. Players may use it for motivation but it's important to not fixate on the noise and let it become a distraction. That noise can be internal too – occasionally guys will quit during training camp, say that it's too much to handle...it's important to tune out negativity in those situations as well.
**Every Preseason Snap Is The Super Bowl
The Oakland Raiders rookie class participated in the inaugural Rookie Transition Program.
Every snap a rookie gets is a job interview, an audition. The stands may be empty and outside perception may be that second halves are scrub time, but the reality is that's a rookie's time to shine – bottom line, that's when guys have to make plays and be too good to ignore. All rookies need to keep in mind that they are performing for a job here and for elsewhere -- staffs around the league aren't looking at just their own teams and which players can earn bigger roles on them, but also which players they can take from other teams after preseason cuts.
Enjoy The Experience
"This game can bring king's rewards, but for a king's ransom. You have to prepare, prepare, prepare." If all goes right and a player works hard, they can reap the benefits of an amazing league and amazing game. Rookies should remember that while the grind is real, there is also a very real light at the end of the tunnel.