How do you intimidate a 300-pound NFL lineman? Based on last week's annual NFL Broadcast Boot Camp, the answer is to put a camera or microphone in front of him. Two dozen current and former players traveled to NFL Films headquarters in Mount Laurel, N.J., to take part in a four-day league and NFLPA initiative to help prepare them for their postplaying careers. During 14-hour days campers attended seminars in all facets of broadcasting—from studio analysis to field reporting to radio hosting—and appeared on camera to tape segments. "It was a little like being a rookie again," said 31-year-old Jets center Damien Woody. "They jam-packed a lot of stuff, but I guess that's why they call it boot camp."
NFL manager of player development Vaughn Bryant, who came up with the curriculum, said 21 of the 40 players who have gone through the program in its previous two years have found work in broadcasting. The star alumni are Tim Hasselbeck (now at ESPN), Dhani Jones (The Travel Channel) and Roland Williams (CBS College Sports). Other students in this year's class included Jaguars back Maurice Jones-Drew and Patriots guard Matt Light, and the faculty included Ron Jaworski of ESPN and James Brown of CBS. They preached to the players the importance of studying the game beyond their position and pronouncing names correctly. During a live broadcast on Sirius NFL Radio, former Packers fullback William Henderson pronounced Eric Mangini's last name like that of Chuck Mangione, the jazz trumpeter. "I just choked," Henderson said as he rode the elevator to another session.
Players were encouraged to express their opinions and ask questions during seminars. "I'm a guy that likes to talk with his hands," said Joe Jurevicius. "Is that allowed?" NFL Network analyst Solomon Wilcots told him that was fine. "But just not in front of your face," Wilcots said, smiling.
The 34-year-old Jurevicius, who was released by the Browns earlier this year, could be entering the media workforce soon. But for Jones-Drew, one of the youngest campers, at 24, the classes were an opportunity to get a jump on his peers. "I don't want be one of the guys retiring and then coming back out of retirement," he said. "I want to find the next best thing to playing."