Kevin White wishes he could talk about hitting the rookie endurance wall or compare his performance to the other members of the Bears’ class.
Instead, he can merely watch their growth.
“It gives me hope,” he said.
The Bears can say the same.
While their No. 7 overall pick is unlikely to play in games this season — he returned to practice last week after having a rod inserted into his left shin in August— the rest of GM Ryan Pace’s first rookie class has helped make up the difference.
Thus far, the class is promising. The Bears have started eight rookies this season for a total of 37 games. Fifth-round safety Adrian Amos has missed three defensive snaps all season, while the undrafted Bryce Callahan has shined as the Bears’ new nickelback.
Second-rounder Eddie Goldman and third-rounder Hroniss Grasu are entrenched in the trenches.
Fourth-rounder Jeremy Langford, of course, looks like the running back of the future.
“We all want to contribute as young players,” Langford said. “It’s us wanting to be playmakers and show that competitive ability that’s in us.”
Just imagine what happens whenever the Bears start to reap rewards on their first-round pick.
“We’ll be a good team, especially with the playmakers we already have,” Langford said. “Add another playmaker to the offensive side of the ball? It’ll be crazy. Just wait.”
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Eddie Goldman wanted to customize a room for his Rottweiler, Kane.
Then he thought about the Monday meetings — the mix of rookie orientation, financial planning class and support group.
“Just how critical a budget can be,” he said. “You do know that, but once someone sits down and explains it to you, you take it more seriously.”
Director of player development Jerry Butler, who came from the Broncos with John Fox, runs the meetings. It’s a gathering place for rookies to talk about issues ranging from attacking practice to navigating the NFL lifestyle.
The average span of an NFL career is 3 ½ years, they’re told. Use those years wisely.
Most teams have a life skills course. Inside Halas Hall, it’s an easy way for rookies to reconnect on a weekly basis. They start the preseason in their own locker room, but become integrated with the team once the season begins.
“You’re expected to be in spots on time, you know what to do,” Langford said. “But at the same time, you’re still a rookie.”
Players are encouraged to save and to budget. And told what not to spend money on.
“Dumb stuff — getting two or three cars, going to the casino,” said safety Harold Jones-Quartey, who bought a GMC truck because he was driving his mom’s car. “Stuff you already know. But when you get that kind of money you don’t have people to look over your shoulder.”
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They began to hear about the rookie wall a few weeks ago — a pre-emptive measure in Monday meetings to prepare for playing, perhaps, twice as many games as they’re used to. The college season has between 12 and 14 games, and NFL teams can play as many as 24, counting the preseason and playoffs.
“A lot of it is your mind, the mindset,” Fox said. “Some of it’s actual. It’s like running the mile. And then all of a sudden, you’re running the two-mile.”
Claimed from the Cardinals after going undrafted, Jones-Quartey prefers to look at the season as “17 sprints.” Langford said veterans prepared them for the midseason hump thusly: “Get your mind prepared … When you do get tired, you know what to do.”
Mental toughness is as important as physical stamina.
“Anytime something’s new — whether you’re a rookie or a five-year vet or whatever time you’ve had in the league — there’s a comfort level that comes with experience,” Fox said. “For all of us. Whether it’s your job, our job.”
Packers linebacker Julius Peppers, who made his NFL debut in 2002 for Fox’s Panthers, credited the coach for his “development as a player and a person” as a rookie.
“The preparation, the attention to detail, the thing he stressed to us in the meetings about being a pro,” he said. “From handling the media to giving his insight and perspective to the upcoming week.”
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Tom Landry said it took three years to evaluate a player: a rookie needed to improve in Year 2 and graduate in Year 3.
“All you can say about a rookie class is this is what they did,” Charley Casserly, the former Redskins and Texans GM now working for the NFL Network. “You can’t make long-term plans.”
Casserly called White a “heckuva prospect” and said Goldman “will be a good nose tackle,” but cautioned against making judgments in Year 1.
“What you’d like to see as you watch this guy is, ‘This is the guy we drafted,’” he said. “’He can do the things physically that we scouted him and believed he can do. We know we can get him bigger and stronger and can improve the technique.’”
How the Bears’ strong rookie class vaults into the future will be critical.
The rival Packers have the NFL’s most homegrown players. By developing rookies, they’ve been “a 25-year-old football team for 10 years,” coach Mike McCarthy said.
“You’ve just gotta get them ready,” he said.
The Bears’ rookies say they are.
And just wait until next year, when White joins them.
“We’re going to be more confident, more experienced,” Langford said. “It’ll be great to all be out there at the same time.”
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