Defensive tackle Corvey Irvin (93), running back Mike Goodson (33) and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (41) are participating in their first NFL minicamp this weekend at Bank of America Stadium.
CHARLOTTE -- They have come from campuses in Tallahassee, Fla., Troy, Ala., Athens, Ga., College Station, Texas, Syracuse, N.Y., Norman, Okla., Columbia, S.C., Sherbrooke, Quebec and many others from across the United States and descended upon the Carolina Panthers' campus at Bank of America Stadium. For the 28 rookies on the roster, this minicamp serves as their introduction to the National Football League. Their orientation includes team and position meetings, weight lifting and five practices.
One of the first things each player received upon arriving was their playbook - a black,1.5-inch three-ring notebook containing more than 200 pages of terminology, plays and formations, spiral notebook for note taking, and pencil bag with pencils, pens, highlighters and erasers. And if the player plays special teams, he got an additional playbook.
Head coach John Fox said his goal for the rookies at minicamp is to come and learn.
"One of the biggest problems for rookies is they are competing against guys that have been doing it for three or four years at this level. They are going to be cramming to get ahead," he said. "The guys that usually put in that extra time in their playbooks usually take off a little bit faster than others, so we'll try to get that across. I think we've got a good, young bunch."
The amount of information being thrown at the young players in such a short period of time can be overwhelming, sometimes causing them to look like deer in headlights on the field. But fullback Tony Fiammetta, the Panthers' fourth-round draft choice from Syracuse, was not intimidated by the size of the playbook or the enormous amount of information.
"I've heard stories about it but I think you've got to take it day-by-day," he said. "The college offense isn't as complicated, and I've got to get my head in the playbook and do my best everyday to get better."
Throughout meetings, in between practices and during almost any spare moment they've had, the first-year players have spent time reading their playbooks. They know that's the only way they are going to stay on top of things. Cornerback Sherrod Martin, the team's second-round draft choice from Troy, explained his approach to tackling the playbook.
"I've got to keep my nose in it every opportunity I get and make sure that I know what's going on," he said. "I've just got to be able to look at it, understand what the coaches are saying and simplify it in my own way so I can learn it fast. Tonight, review what we've gone over today and then peek at what we've got going on tomorrow."
While some rookies are overwhelmed, others are over anxious or over aggressive during their first few practices, trying to do too much to impress the coaches or make an impact among the veterans. This, combined with the information overload can lead to confusion and mistakes on the field. Knowing the playbook cover to cover by the end of this weekend is not the goal. Being prepared for the preseason is.
"Guys' work ethics will come through and guys are going to need to put in the extra time and really attack it," Fox said. "We have this mini-camp and then we have our 14 OTA (organized training activities) possibilities and then training camp. So in that period of time, they need to absorb as much as they can."
This is not the first group of rookies who have experienced the frustrations of trying to adjust to the NFL. Every veteran on the team was a rookie at one time or another, including 10th-year fullback Brad Hoover, who was a rookie with the Panthers in 2000. He knows what they are going through.
"I remember just how lost I was," Hoover said. "You come in and you don't know what to expect. You're coming into a situation, especially me being undrafted, and there are a million people, the playbook is like a foreign language to you because you are not used to the terminology and the plays. You're trying to take in so much information in a short amount of time and trying to process it. You're lucky to line up in the right formation."
Fox is counting on veterans like Hoover to help the rookies with their transition to the NFL.
"That's why we bring our veterans and rookies in together because what better example are your veteran players," Fox said. These guys have been successful at this level, and I'm sure they'll be good teachers for our young guys."
Hoover said, "I tell them to try to take in what you can, try to grasp as much as you can. But the main thing is, and even though it is hard, you have to relax. If you start to over process things and think about things too much, you are just going to compound it and screw it up.
"I talk to them out here on the field," Hoover added. "I try to give them clues and tips of how I might run a route or how I might see a blocking scheme, just trying to give them some insight into what I've learned."
Martin already knows one thing he will have with him the next time he comes to the Bank of America Stadium campus for summer school in May and June.
"Right now, I don't have a book bag and I'm carrying around two big notebooks, so after this weekend when I come back I'm for sure going to have a book bag."
So while the 28 rookies on the roster may have left college, they are still students - students of the game.