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Rookie symposium offers chance to pass knowledge on to NFL youth

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Houston Texans outside linebacker Brian Cushing and teammate Connor Barwin stepped off a luxury bus at the PGA National Resort with their varying manes tussled and their bodies looking like they were just unfurled from a cargo box. They were not in the best of moods. Their two-hour, fifteen-minute flight from Houston to the NFL Rookie Symposium on Sunday came on a regional jet-aircraft, which wasn't ideal for guys 6-foot-3, 243 pounds (Cushing) and 6-4, 256 (Barwin).

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez didn't have to spend hours with his knees in his chest to get here, but he did squeeze into the backseat of an SUV to allow a bigger teammate to sit in the front passenger seat. Once he stepped out of the ride, Sanchez was approached by autograph seekers, one of whom was a teenager who could barely hold his camera phone still enough to take a picture of his buddy posing with the No. 5 overall pick from USC.

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All 256 of the 2009 draft picks arrived by nightfall in time to start their final, four-day indoctrination to life in the NFL. This won't be the first time they will hear discussions about financial management, the personal conduct code, the banned-substance policy or about how to deal with the media. But it will be the most concentrated forum before they take the field for training camps in roughly a month.

"This is different from everything we've done because we're really focused on nothing else," Browns wide receiver Brian Robiskie said. "We've been doing everything with running routes and lifting weights and getting some life skills training. But you get down here and there isn't any football to deal with."

Players had most of Sunday to get their bearings and catch up with other players and staffers of the annual program hosted by the NFL and NFLPA. By the evening, though, it was time for business.

From 6:30-10:00 p.m., seminars featuring top-level NFL officials and new NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith kicked off the program. Bed check is at 11:30. Sessions run from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday. From there, players begin preparing for training camps and finalizing contracts with their respective teams.

Among those addressing the rookies or guiding them through workshops and seminars include: Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin, second-year players Dustin Keller, Harry Douglas, Chris Long, and Eddie Royal, current and former players Kevin Mawae, Marcellus Wiley, Cris Carter, Chris Draft, Charlie Batch, Harold Carmichael, Len Dawson, Jerome Bettis, La'Roi Glover and Nnamdi Asomugha.

"A lot of people talk about that rookie wall that you hit but part of the reason I really didn't hit it was because of some of the things they taught in the symposium," said Keller, who caught 48 passes with the Jets as a rookie in 2008. "I knew what to expect. Considering that I just went through the process they're about to go through, I hope they can relate to what I have to say.

"It's a long year. You go right from college basically into training and then straight into the season. You really don't have any time off. Being able to share my experience with them hopefully can help make it that much easier for them."

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