Whether you're a former first-round pick out of a major university or a six-year veteran with ju-co roots, there's always a learning curve when first entering the world of professional football. Gone are the days of dorm rooms and dinner on the campus quad. There is no more protective bubble of collegiate athletics. This is the big-time NFL, and with it, comes big-time responsibility. It's a daunting situation to enter into, and one that can seem larger than life for most.
It's a situation each player must work through. While every individual has their own way of handling the transition, a few current members of the team offered their advice on how to be successful to the incoming rookie class.
Bucs' offensive tackle Donovan Smith's first piece of advice for the incoming rookie class: don't let the pressure overwhelm you.
"Don't let it get too big for you," Smith said. "A lot of guys come in, even myself, and it's like, 'Oh man, everything is moving so fast,' and there's all of these 'what-if' factors. Just go out there and do what you've been doing all of your life, play football. Get things corrected after and then go from there. Don't make it too big, too small. Just go out there and compete."
For some of these players, they aren't even old enough to celebrate being drafted with an alcoholic beverage. Yet, they are thrust in the spotlight and into a situation where the game they love is now their livelihood. It's faster, harder and requires a lot more study time, as tight end O.J. Howard found out in his rookie year.
"It was a little more challenging as far as you have to do a better job of just paying attention to detail in the film room," Howard said. "That is the biggest takeaway [from my rookie year] and just applying it to the field. Now going into my second year, I understand that a lot more. I look at things differently now when I take notes, so that is definitely going to help out a lot when the season comes around and I am already seeing improvements in the offseason."
The pressure may not be on the incoming draft class as much as in previous years with all the veteran acquisitions made during the offseason prior to the draft. The defense, especially, got some major help on the front line, adding players like DE Jason Pierre-Paul from the New York Giants and run-stoppers like DT Beau Allen, DE Vinny Curry and DE Mitch Unrein, with the latter three acquired via free agency.
"We added a lot of new additions and things are going well so far, man, linebacker Lavonte David said. "Everything looks good on paper. We just have to put it all together. Get the rookies in, the new draft class, the guys who are going to help us in a big way. Once those guys get in and we put it all together, things should be on the up and up."
The Bucs already have a solid linebacker corps but added to its depth with their last pick of the draft by selecting Jack Cichy out of the University of Wisconsin. He's a welcome addition, according to David.
"I haven't watched really much on him but from what I hear, he's a great kid," David said. "Obviously he's from the Big-Ten so he can play football. I'm just looking forward to getting him into the room. Hopefully he'll fit in with all of the guys in our room and add to the depth and add to the playmakers that we're trying to have."
In order to fit in and succeed, watching film is of the utmost importance, as tight end O.J. Howard continued to stress.
"I would say whenever you get a chance to study film, you always want to do it," said Howard. "One of my friends told me on the team, 'Man, we already know we are playing the Saints. If you want to get a head start, you could.' So, it's just those little details about the film room that takes you a long way when the game comes around."
To the rookie class, a situation he was in just one year ago, Howard had this to say overall:
"Don't come in and feel like you've got to do a lot. Everyone on the team knows what their job is. Everyone here is going to be behind you 100 percent of the way and don't be afraid to make mistakes because we all do. So, we are all learning. Just get better every day and don't make the same mistakes twice."