With NFL Draft weekend officially in the books, draftees and undrafted free agents prepare to tackle rookie mini-camp in the weeks to follow. A camp that varies in length, based on the individual head coaches’ decision, is a time for teams to reevaluate talent, get players accustom to playbooks and widdle down prospects in preparation for the team’s 90-man roster for training camp.
But aside from these well-known facts, what really goes on in that three to five day window they call mini-camp?
“When you first get to camp it’s eye-opening,” admitted former Merrimack standout Isaiah Voegeli, who was invited by the Philadelphia Eagles to their mini-camp a year ago. “You get there and reality starts to sink in and you realize you have an opportunity to do what you really want to do.”
Former Boston College captain, Jim Noel harped that same message, explaining how it was difficult to overlook the fact that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“You go there with the mindset of being ready to go to work,” explained Noel, who was invited to Seattle for Seahawks' mini-camp last year. “But at the same time you know you’ll always cherish this moment to say you were part of an NFL team, even if it was only for a small period of time if things don’t workout.”
Once players enjoy the moment and put those feelings to the side, it's time to prepare for the challenge that lies ahead.
“The first day I got there it was pretty simple,” said Voegeli. “They had us sign waivers, meet with the team’s trainer, gave us a tour of the facilities and then the rest of the day was just meetings. You meet with the coaches, then there was a team meeting and then we broke into positional meetings for the remainder of the day. Being able to have that day when you get there was important because it lets you relax a little more and get ready to go to work for the next day.”
Through these numerous meetings, players are introduced to a small portion of the team’s playbook and are expected to pick things up quickly.
“It’s all about being able to learn on the fly and applying it to the field,” Noel explained. “You usually meet about two to three times a day for about an hour and a half to two hours and install about five different plays a day. There’s a lot of different information to grasp so studying your playbook during downtime is a must.”
While repeating the process of multiple meetings throughout the week, players take to the field to prove to coaches why they deserve a contract.
“In Seattle they put us through numerous drills that were intended to make us compete and see how we react under pressure,” said Noel. “Whether it was eleven-on-eleven or seven-on-seven or even just positional drills, it was all about competition.”
Voegeli echoed those same memories, explaining that players are always at full-tilt despite only being in uppers.
“Even though we were just in uppers, everyone was moving 100 miles per hour,” Voegeli said. “When you have a bunch of competitive football players trying to earn a contract there’s going to be some contact but that’s something that’s expected. No one is going out there trying to give cheap shots or anything like that but you have the mindset that every time you catch a pass that there’s someone waiting there ready to knock you out.”
Although mini-camp is small process in the grand scheme of things in the NFL, it gives prospects that opportunity to prove to NFL organizations they deserve a shot. While some mini-camp invitees may never have a shot again to play in the NFL, there's no question that many of them are more grateful for simply having an opportunity to live out their dreams.
“It was a really a tremendous opportunity that I feel very fortunate to of had,” said Voegeli, who not signed after mini-camp. “Things may have not worked out the way I may have wanted them to but to be able to say I had a shot is what it’s all about. When you think about all the players out there that put hours of work in and still don’t receive an invite to mini-camp, you realize how much of a blessing it is when you’re one of the few to get that chance.”
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