When players enter the NFL from the collegiate ranks, one of the first challenges for nearly every player is the adjustment to the speed of the game at the pro level. The adjustment is so certain that NFL betting sites could make it a prop bet. It’s part of the learning curve for NFL rookies.
But the speed that challenges rookies isn’t just about foot speed, explosiveness or quickness. It’s more about playing fast while processing information and misinformation, both of which arrive in the form of disguised coverages, slight of hand and formations oftentimes intended to create confusion.
The mental processor has to be running on all cylinders, otherwise players play slower or out of control – either of which leave openings that opponents can then take advantage of.
Recently as a guest on Sirius XM’s NFL Radio, Broncos edge rusher Shane Ray discussed adjustments to “the league.”
“Everyone is so concerned about the physical speed of the game coming into the NFL. Depending upon where you played – I played in the SEC so I feel like those are the fastest guys you’re ever going to see. So, the physical speed of guys moving wasn’t what was so shocking. It was me having to breakdown formations and plays and still react at the same speed as those guys. That’s what was so difficult.
“What I really mean by that is that I’m so used to college where I could just run off the backside and chase the guy down. But in the league, there’s so much more to it. This guy might block down but there might be a reverse coming, a shuttle pass up the middle, this or that. Your eyes have to be so trained and ready to react to these things. When you come into the league as a rookie you’re not used to having to deal with that.”
The information varies by position. Some positions require more pre-snap reconnaissance skills and the heavier a position is mentally, the longer it takes for that position to make a meaningful impact. In part, that’s why it’s so challenging to project the success of wide receivers who could get away with pure athleticism at the collegiate level. The challenges can be even more pronounced if a player is asked to play a new position as a pro. Ravens linebacker Kamalei Correa comes to mind.
Of course, there’s a physical element unique to the NFL that players must prepare for as well. Entering the league, rookies are going against veterans who have learned what it takes to get ready for an NFL season and as full-time players, they have put in the time at the gym and they’ve learned the art of nutrition.
A player like DT Michael Pierce will benefit from a full offseason as a professional, which in turn could improve his productivity in 2017.
Ray took advantage of a full offseason following his rookie campaign and doubled his production during his second season. Nutrition played a big part. He explains…
“I don’t believe that players take opportunity to learn how nutrition truly affects your body. What eating certain foods does to you, how it affects your energy level, how it affects your ability to play. I remember Von [Miller] saying that you can’t put cheap gas in a Ferrari.
“When I came into the league, I was 15% body fat, fresh out of college, eating Wendy’s and Chick-Filet all the time trying to keep my weight up. But when I got to the NFL I understood how important it was for me to be lean in order to perform at the level that I want to.”
Speed of the game, conditioning and nutrition.
Hopefully the Ravens rookies from 2016 will follow a path similar to Ray’s.
Nature Valley granola bar anyone?