Guest MMQB: Coby Fleener talks Rookie Symposium, going to camp
The Rookie Symposium was more educational and entertaining than I expected
Michael Irvin, Adam Jones & Terrell Owens were among the memorable speeches
Ten Things I'm Bringing to My Rookie Training Camp & Ten Things I Think I Think
Peter King is on vacation, so he's recruited some help filling in on Monday Morning Quarterback. This week, Indianapolis Colts rookie tight end Coby Fleener takes the reins.
I'm sure you're probably wondering why Peter asked me to express my musings in this guest version of Monday Morning Quarterback. I'll try to explain briefly why he chose me instead of my little-known sidekick at Stanford and, now with the Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck.
As I worked toward my Master's Degree in Media Studies, I took a journalism course last winter in specialized reporting and writing about sports taught by author Gary Pomerantz, a former sportswriter. We studied the history and evolution of sportswriting and wrote features and profiles ourselves.
I had been interviewed plenty of times, but had never really thought much about the process. For my first story, I interviewed former Washington Redskins great Joe Jacoby, the man for whom I am named, and wrote a first-person account of the experience. As the family story goes, my mother was pregnant with me in 1988, saw an NFL game on TV and noticed Joe's last name on the back of his jersey. She liked it so much that she and my dad gave me the name Jacoby Fleener.
My first experience as an interviewer was exhilarating. The preparation was challenging, and so was the give-and-take of our phone conversation. I confess I was a little nervous. I quickly learned that the best sports reporters must be multitaskers, and that I have a ways to go in that regard. Thankfully, Joe was kind and patient with me, knowing that I was a rookie sportswriter. He allowed me to slow things down a few times. We talked about his life, and about life in the NFL. He advised, "Be yourself."
A second assignment asked students to write a profile of a current sportswriter, showing how his/her biography shapes the work, and how he/she has adjusted to the modern media revolution. I assumed this profile would be easier than the first. After all, the reporter would know what I was going through.
I chose to profile Peter King. I'm a regular reader of MMQB, and have seen him on TV and in the studio many times. As I interviewed Peter, I realized how much I respect his work, and his approach to it. I was impressed with his extensive list of NFL connections, and his writing style.
But it was more than that. I realized that Peter, like many of my new Colts teammates and I, loves what he does and is thankful for the opportunity to do it. And it isn't just that Peter is happy performing his dream job. I sensed that he pushes himself harder than hard to be the best in his profession.
He told me that he'd been affected by something that New England receiver Wes Welker said in a press conference after the Patriots lost to the Giants in last season's Super Bowl.
Welker had dropped a pass that he should have caught and said that he felt as if he had let down his team.
Peter said, "I have incredibly high regard for Welker. I don't have respect for guys who don't take it very seriously and are in it for some other reason than to try to, when they're out there, be absolutely as good as they can."
Peter doesn't see himself in the mold of Welker, even though he obviously is.
Playing pro football and covering it have more in common than I'd realized.
Life at the Rookie Symposium.
Just when the rookies thought that the whirlwind days of their first mini-camps and Organized Team Activities (OTAs) were over.
The Rookie Symposium is sort of like a four-day mini-camp unto itself. Put on by the NFL, it is intended as an orientation for rookies to smooth their transition from college to the NFL. According to the NFL Player Engagement website, the symposium provides "... an orientation to life in the NFL, including social responsibility, professional development, community engagement, league policies, workplace conduct, and media relations. In addition, it offers educational life-skills workshops on topics ranging from substance abuse, sex education, domestic violence, DUI, gambling, personal finance, associations, and family issues." Somewhere, mixed in with the laundry list of no-no's, are some great opportunities to meet some great people, and to learn.
Is it working?
The most important question is whether or not the long days of talks from former players and NFL employees really helps. Due to the lockout, the 2011 Rookie Symposium was cancelled. However, the downward trend of arrests of NFL players continues. According to the NFL there were 79 arrests in 2006, 73 in 2007, 72 in 2008, 62 in 2009, 64 in 2010, and 62 in 2011. The arrests ranged from possession of unprescribed Viagra to DUI to federal drug charges. It is difficult to discern whether the decline is a result of fear of stronger punishments from Commissioner Goodell, better education through programs such as the Rookie Symposium, or a combination of the two.
Day 1: Wednesday
After spending a few hours delayed in the Indianapolis airport, I made it to the hotel with the other Colts rookies just in time for dinner and a little catching up with other teams' rookies. After that, we made our way to the main ballroom. The NFL's desire to make the environment player-friendly and exciting was evident. Loud pop music blared through speakers and colored lights flashed on a stage, flanked by two large high definition televisions. Giant banners of NFL legends like Walter Payton and Brett Favre covered each wall. I expected to have to suffer on uncomfortable, easily stackable hotel chairs, but instead found rows of comfortable, leather swivel desk chairs.
The lights went down and the TVs sprang to life. A rousing, inspirational NFL Films recap of the 2011 season showed highlights from a variety of big games throughout the year. The final shot showed the Vince Lombardi Trophy being held after the Super Bowl, as if to remind the rookies of their ultimate goal.
Troy Vincent, Vice President of Player Engagement, welcomed the rookies.
Each player was handed a wireless keypad to allow them to answer questions. Antonio Freeman, the second speaker and former standout receiver for the Green Bay Packers, explained that they were a part of the "Ultimate Rookie Challenge." Four times during the symposium, rookies were given eight different questions and 10 seconds to answer each of them. The top five prizes for the teams that won were:
5th: Xbox Kinect
4th: Beats headphones
3rd: Bose Soundlink Wireless music system
2nd: Bose Music System 3
To test the wireless keypad system, and to get responses to a survey, the NFL did a trial run, asking, "Which forms of social media do you use?" I pressed the button for Twitter. I then looked at Luck, because I realized he's likely the only guy in the room who didn't press any buttons during the response time. He looked at me with a big smile on his face, and I couldn't help but laugh.
Once Freeman stepped off the stage, the lights dimmed again. Shadows darted around, moving furniture as if it were between scenes at a play. Soon after the lights came back on, a couple walked onto stage, talking to each other and completely ignoring the slightly confused audience. The two actors were the first of a group that would portray various scenarios that players might have to deal with in the future. These parts were called "Walk Throughs." We were then interviewed about our opinions on the skit.
Highlights of this portion included:
In response to a question about what qualities to look for in a woman, someone responded, "She's got to have good credit."
Melvin Ingram, the Chargers' first round pick, being pulled on stage to attempt to explain to his "dad" (played by the announcer) that the whole family shouldn't move with him to San Diego.
Ross Tucker interviewing a player panel of now second-year players from a variety of backgrounds and draft positions. It was helpful to hear from guys who had recently been rookies, and learn small tidbits from them about the steps it takes to become true professionals.
The best quote from the session, courtesy of Ravens receiver Torrey Smith, who explained the importance of having a plan and preparing for life after the NFL: "Congratulations on making it into the NFL. You're now on your way out of the NFL."
The end of the night concluded with breakout groups to discuss team-building and our transition from college to the NFL.
I also learned this cool factoid: Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown never played defensive back until his coach handed him his playbook at the start of his first NFL camp. He had played both ways as a tight end and linebacker in college. My sources tell me that the Colts plan on keeping me at tight end ... for now.