Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Never as Good, Never as Bad

     Coming off of game three I was frustrated with my performance.  It was just one of those frustrating games where it seems that nothing is going your way and you are fighting yourself trying to get back on track.  But there is only one version of the truth in football and that is the eye in the sky... the game film is your resume and you are signing your name to it every time you play.  Coach Cecil says that there is no audio on the film for a reason.  You can't talk a big game anymore, you have to walk it!  Well after going back and looking at the video it was not as bad as I had originally thought.  I was in the right spot on most all of the plays and made some good tackles, but needed to finish better and clean up some technique.  I know I can play better and will look to get back to playing my game.  Playing organized football since the 7th grade and all the way through now, it is always the lesson and result after watching film... "It's never as good as it seems, and it's never as bad as it seems."

     I was a little nervous entering the facility that Sunday afternoon after the game.  The cuts were looming and even as I entered the locker room they were already under way.  These players come to work like any other day and suddenly you are asked to go talk to coach and bring your playbook.  They say their goodbyes and just as quickly as it came, it is gone.  I had never been in a situation like this before as you are pretty much guaranteed to be around in high school and college if you stay out of trouble.  I am confident in my game and proud of what I have shown so far, but you never know where you stand in the coach's eyes and they don't give you any indication of where you stand.  A lot of good players were cut in the last three days that I have become friends with and have worked with since arriving here in May.  My thoughts and prayers are with them as they try to get on with another team or walk away from their dreams and move on from football.  I have made it through the first round of cuts, but that was not my goal.  I am heading into this final preseason game looking to earn a spot on the 53 man roster.  It might be my last football game or it could be one that starts a long career.  I will play hard, have fun, and have faith in God's plan.  See you on the other side!

-Student of the Game

Friday, August 23, 2013

#RamsCamp Comes to an End

(Rams Jeopardy Trophy)

     My first NFL training camp has come and gone.  There has been so much that has happened in one month and it has been an awesome, stressful, fun, and tiresome experience as a rookie.  Coming off our second preseason loss, we came back focused and determined to get better this week.  The preseason is coming to a close and the intensity is picking up.  Mistakes are no longer tolerable and the cuts are just around the corner.  We started the week with some hard practices, and we had to face the heat and humidity for the first time this year.  As lucky as we have been with the weather so far, the heat hit us hard and we had to push through fatigue and fight through to stay mentally sharp.  A great compliment to a hard day is competition and even a little fighting to let out the steam!  Things got a little chippy, which always makes the practice a little more fun and exciting.  As camp broke, we had a few end of training camp rituals that we got the chance to participate in.

     At the end of practice Wednesday, we set up for a shuttle race and the rookies were put in teams.  Then we were told it was a dizzy bat relay... lol well once I heard the rules I knew the fans were in for quite a treat.  We were to run a football 20 yards, drop it as we ran 20 more yards where there was a bat.  Then grab the bat and do 25 turns with it on your head and the end touching the ground.  Finally, run back to grab the ball and finish the race!  At least that was the goal...  I made it about half way through my 20 turns and fell to the ground already dizzy.  We were also getting ice water dumped on us at the same time which didn't help our footing.  I only fell once on my relay but us rookies were looked like bumbling fools falling all over the place and running sideways trying to get back to the football.  The fans and the veterans had fun watching this one.  Another ritual is Rams Jeopardy which was run by Coach Fassel.  The veterans have held the trophy (shown above) since the existence of the game.  We were broken into three teams by experience: veterans, mid range, and rookies.  It was put together well with many of the features of the actual show which made the game competitive.  Some of the categories were: historical football plays, movies, music, animals, monuments, and name that teammate (baby pictures).  The rookies started out strong and continued to dominate the game all the way through.  At the end of the board, we were in the lead heading into final jeopardy.  Deciding to bet all of our money to guarantee a win, we received the final question:  How many pro teams (big 4 sports) play their home games in the state of New York?  Comment below if you know the answer!  In the end we got the question wrong and the mid range experience players won the trophy.  A fun end a great training camp.  

     I will miss seeing the fans at the practice, and even more the case my wife will miss coming to watch.  She really enjoyed getting to watch each day and get to know the Rams family.  As camp breaks we get to stay at home now, but that comfort is countered with the stress of knowing cuts are next week.  This is a big game for all the players on the bubble and we must make our limited reps count.  Headed to Denver!

-Student of the Game

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My Home Opener

     I took it all in as I stepped into the "Jones" to play another football game... but this time instead of Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas which has been my home field for four years, it was in the Edward Jones Dome for the preseason home opener.  The first time to play in front my family at this level and in front of the home town fans of St Louis.  It started with a bold entrance as I ran out through the smoke and flame.  Welcome to the big show!  

     This game started a little slower for me.  I was a little less nervous since I had one game under the belt and I knew not to get too revved up until it was closer to when I would go in.  The 1's were to get more reps and with the increased safety depth I knew it could push me into the second half, which ended up to be the case.  But either way I was prepared, focused, and ready to make my reps count.  Special teams is a big emphasis for rookies to make the team and I knew I had to improve from last week.  Well that improvement started with a bang as I had a partial block of a field goal that pounded off my left wrist and some how still managed to helicopter through the uprights.  I was not happy to say the least that it went through, but it is motivating and encouraging for me to go get the next one.  We had been working extra on field goal block all week through film study and techniques.  It's a great feeling for both the coach and player when you take a drill from practice and translate it into a game.  I also came up with several knock downs, where you put an opposing special teams player on the ground, in both punt return and kickoff return.  On defense I managed to stay away from negatives on the grade sheet again and came up with some good tackles, one for a loss.  Overall the objective of preseason games is to slowly prove yourself and move up the depth charts to earn a spot on the final roster.  Only time will tell if I took a step forward, but for now I will continue the same process as always... study, perform, corrections, repeat.  It is now getting down to crunch time as the training camp is breaking this week and cuts start to take place.  Until next time!

-Student of the Game

Friday, August 16, 2013

Rookie Roller Coaster

     Coming off of the high of my first NFL game, we headed back to Rams Park for another long week of training camp.  I was confident from my play but was hit with a depth chart change the first practice back. Another safety was back now from injury and I was bumped down to the 3's on defense and special teams for the second time this training camp.  This was like a gut check and as much as I tried not to be, I was frustrated and it showed negatively in my practice.  I knew I had not gotten bumped down because of my play, so I just had to keep working and focus on myself because in football there will inevitably be some highs and lows... good days and bad days.  Rookies especially don't know where they stand in the coaches eyes so we are especially hard on ourselves.  I have to stay off this rookie roller coaster and produce consistently to earn a roster spot.  I came in the next few days with a renewed mind set and really focused on making the most of my reps, practicing at a high level, and finishing.  As FAITH would have it, I began to rotate in with the 2's and improved greatly as the week went on.  This is yet another reminder to not worry about stuff you can't control and things will work out like they are supposed to.  Overall the week of practice was good and the weather couldn't have been better.  We actually had a rainy practice and while it was pouring we practiced on low tackling where we dove at a dummy and landed/slid on a mat... which turned into a football slip n slide!  Training camp always comes with some pleasant surprises.

     Along with the football meetings, we also have informative meetings covering various aspects of being in the NFL and guides to help you be successful.  Wednesday we had the unique opportunity to get tips about handling the media by former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.  He gave us an entertaining yet informative presentation about handling the media and answering the tough questions.  Ari was faced with some of the toughest questions by the nastiest reporters on a daily basis in the White House.  After his presentation he was open to questions and was asked by one of the coaches about his 9/11 experience when he was serving as press secretary.  Everyone in the room including myself was captivated by hearing first hand what happened behind the scenes that day.  Ari was by President Bush's side when it happened and from the moment his beeper went off notifying him of the attack to being in the underground bunker in the White House he described in detail of his experiences that day.  Nobody forgets where they were that day and I can still remember watching it in Stephenville Elementary on the news.  I was happy to hear his story and gain some helpful tips on handling the media, even though I will never have to face something as difficult as Ari had to.

     Another week of work is in the books and preseason game 2 is tomorrow.  Green Bay is coming to town for the home opener and my first time to play in front of our fans.  I will be facing former teammate and Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, so hopefully I can go back to my red shirt days on scout team and get another interception from him!  Lol... Whoever I am facing and however many reps I get, I will play my hardest and look to improve off my first game.  From Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, TX to Edward Jones Dome in St Louis, MO.  It's my first game in the new Jones!

-Student of the Game

Friday, August 09, 2013

My First NFL Experience

     Heading to Cleveland, I couldn't believe my first NFL game was upon me.  It snuck up on me as I have been in a whirlwind lately and focused on training camp.  As it is with preseason games, the game plan was simple and the opponent scouting was not too in depth because of that same reason.  The reps are so limited in these preseason games yet they are the most important evaluation of your talent.  I was excited to see that I was with the 2's and the 3's on the depth chart on both defense and special teams.  The travel and hotel were both top notch and I enjoyed the step up from college.  We definitely have everything we need both nutritionally and mentally to relieve us from any distractions.  After getting to catch up on some sleep and pre game meal, the nerves started to kick in as we had meetings and then took off for the stadium.  It was finally here, the opportunity I have been working for all year!

     My first NFL experience lived up to the hype.  Putting on the uniform and running onto the field for the first time was an amazing feeling.  The energy and unity on this team made it the most fun I have had playing football in a long time.  After the nerves and excitement of the start of the game, I had to focus on staying warm on the sideline as I awaited my turn.  It is quite difficult as you get cold and tight watching the game along with the bench fans blowing on you.  I was especially worried about this because coach Fassel showed us a highlight video earlier this week on what happens if you don't stay warm... a bunch of players pulling hamstrings on kickoff!  Thanks for showing us that coach haha.  But I managed to stay warm enough before I started to get reps in late 2nd quarter.  I think I played good for my first game, but have a lot to improve on.  It killed me not to come up with a diving interception, but hopefully I got that drop out of the way.  Other than that I had some good tackles and played well on special teams.  I am going to have to get used to not making every tackle and the smaller amount of opportunities in a game!  It took me a couple of series to even hit someone because the swarm of the defense was so good.  In college I usually played around 90 plays a game and averaged around 6-10 tackles a game.  Well the decrease from that won't necessarily be a bad thing, but I will have to make every opportunity count!

     We didn't win the game, but as long as we learn from the film and get better each game... that is what preseason is for!  Part 1 of the interview is in the books and I can't wait for the next one.  I'm blessed and thankful for all the support from family, friends, and fans!  Looking back it is hard to believe that I played my first NFL game, and what I usually watch on TV is being played out in my life.  I can't waste this opportunity.  Back to training camp and another week of work!

-Student of the Game

Monday, August 05, 2013

When Opportunity Knocks

     This past week has really challenged me to be patient and just focus on making the most out of my reps on the 3rd team.  Using my day off on Tuesday to relax and clear my mind, I came into Wednesday's practice with a good patient attitude and renewed focus.  Well as the saying goes, you have to stay ready because you never know when your opportunity will come.  Suddenly after warm up I was thrown into the mix running with both the 2's and the 3's.  Talk about a swing of reps, phew that was a little harder!  I was prepared and knew what to do and tried the make the most out of the opportunity.  I had a good practice with some good tackles and an interception, but far from perfect.  This little opportunity gives me more chances to work on my technique and show streaks of what I have.  I was able to do this the rest of the week and really get into a flow of practicing, film feedback, and correction.

     The week of practice ended with #RamsFanFest in the Edward Jones Dome.  This was a great way to get prepared for the coming game week and also get to get in front of the fans.  It was my first time to be in the stadium and walking out into the lights suited up in Rams gear was definitely a little eye opening.  It makes you take a step back and realize how blessed and amazing it is to be here with this opportunity.  These moments are few and far between, because when it comes down to it you can't sit back and enjoy the view... you have to stay focused on the task at hand and keep working.  It's back to business and the interview never ends.  We had a great practice which ended with a rookie scrimmage.  We started with special teams and whether I was going as a backup role or as a scout team, I try and use every opportunity to prove myself.  There is still a lot of techniques and moves, to block and defeat blocks, that I must learn to become an elite special teamer.  This is important because the one obvious difference between college and the NFL has to be the level of preciseness.  I continue to keep that focus as I practice.  Overall I had a pretty good day with efficient communication, tackling, and technique.  I enjoyed playing in front of the fans and signing autographs afterward.  All of this is building up anticipation for one thing... game week.  The preseason games are ultimately what we will be judged on as rookies and for us it is where we win or lose our job.  My NFL resume is a clean slate for only three more days... here we go!
-Student of the Game