When Cleveland Browns Daily co-host Matt Wilhelm arrived in San Diego for his first-ever training camp in 2003, the linebacker was as nervous as he can ever remember.
The Chargers used a fourth-round pick on the Ohio State alum, and Wilhelm wanted to prove to the front office, coaching staff and his teammates he was worthy of a roster spot, and, of course, playing time.
As Danny Shelton, Cameron Erving and the rest of the Browns rookies ascend upon Berea for their first ever training camp, Wilhelm has some tips that'll help keep their head on straight. 1) Learning on the run
It's common knowledge the speed of the NFL moves at a much faster pace than college football – but that's in the classroom, too. The rookies report back in the building one week before the veterans to get acclimated to all the jargon and film watching that, at times, can be even more draining than a two-hour practice in the heat. Coach Mike Pettine has made it clear to the rookies it's on them to speak up and ask questions if they are lost. "That's what the assistant coaches are here for," Pettine said in a closed-door meeting with the rookies in June. 2) Raising the level of competition
This is the pillar of what elevated the Browns' record to 7-9 in Pettine's first season. And it's the tip later round draft picks and undrafted players should take to heart. We harp on it a ton, but entering training camp one season ago, local media coverage had written off players such as Isaiah Crowell, Taylor Gabriel and K'Waun Williams – and all became integral members of the team. Players like cornerback Charles Gaines, tight end E.J. Bibbs and even running back Luke Lundy should not put limits on themselves because, here in Cleveland, the best players will see the field, no matter where they were drafted. And proving you belong as a rookie all starts with consistency on the practice field in training camp.
3) Evolving roles
Safety Ibraheim Campbell will likely have to learn both safety positions. Wide receiver Vince Mayle is going to be run blocking much more than he was in Washington State's spread passing attack. Linebacker Hayes Pullard will need to be a special teams ace to prove he's worthy of a spot on the 53-man roster instead of the practice squad. Whatever accolades these rookies received in college are now gone. And those who thrive with a clean slate must learn the finer details of their positions. 4) The resounding voice in their head should say, 'I am now a professional'
Proper nutrition. Getting a good night's rest. Picking up the playbook at the team hotel. Leaning on team resources to help with any personal crises. These seem like elementary elements of success, but when so much change is going on for a rookie player, they can be accidentally neglected.