Chargers receiver Mike Williams may miss all of the season due to a back injury suffered at rookie minicamp. Which should get more teams to take a hard look at whether rookie minicamp is something that should continue.
Consider how it currently plays out. Roughly a week or two after the draft, the new players convene, along with sometimes dozens of tryout players, for a weekend of football practice. Though non-contact, the OTA-style sessions thrust first-year players who haven’t practiced or played football in months directly into a competitive environment, absent the two-phase phase-in that happens for veterans every offseason.
Not surprisingly, some players get injured. Whether it’s Jaguars pass-rusher Dante Fowler tearing an ACL two years ago or Williams injuring his back or Browns defensive back Howard Wilson fracturing his knee this year, players will get injured when they’re dropped into this setting without the kind of foundation that they need.
And what’s the benefit? Yes, they get early and immediate exposure to the offense and defense, but how much will they actually retain during the whirlwind that occurs in a weekend that includes draft picks trying to get comfortable, undrafted free agents trying to prove they should have been drafted, and tryout players desperately trying to show they belong on the 90-man roster.
But don’t take my word for it, as if you ever would. At least one team has ditched the traditional rookie minicamp. And others should consider doing things the way the Dolphins currently do them.
In Miami, it has become an orientation weekend, a time for players to get their sea legs in lieu of being forced to walk the plank.
“For us, it’s really get them acclimated to what we’re doing, what we expect of them between lifting, meetings,” coach Adam Gase said after this year’s opening weekend, via the team’s official website. “We try to educate them on all the things that can help them. Our sports science group speaks to them, player engagement does. We usually have a couple of ex-players come in here to talk to them about what they’ve experienced. We’re trying to get ahead of it. That was the one reason why we did this, we always just felt like when we had these rookie minicamps and you’re practicing, you’re coming back in, you’re installing more, you’re watching practice, by the time they leave here, they don’t remember anything.”
If the goal is to help young players prepare to blend with the older ones, having the young players spin their wheels (and dent their fenders) on the practice field may not be the best way to go.
“Our biggest goal was, how do we get these guys to where we can get them to leave here, come back and have an idea what they’re going to go through in the next phase but also retain some information and really try to catch up to the vets as much as possible?” Gase said at the time. “We felt like last year it did matter for us because when we hit OTAs our guys knew what to do, they knew what they were supposed to be, they were able to actually contribute in practice. They weren’t just staying in the background just watching.”
They also were healthy, because they didn’t go from months of no football to all football, all the time in a compressed time frame that periodically results in a new player contributing nothing at all in his first year with the team because he emerged from the rookie minicamp with a major injury.