PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long knew he wasn't lifting weights enough, but he had cut back in an effort to maximize his speed and explosiveness for the NFL Scouting Combine and never adjusted after the draft.
New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller knew he wasn't eating right, but he couldn't cook to save his life, and it was easier to just go to restaurants while managing everything else associated with his first season in the league.
Only one year removed from their inaugural pro seasons, these members of the 2008 draft class were ideal resources to inform the 256 members of the Class of 2009 gathered at the 13th annual NFL Rookie Symposium about what to expect in the months ahead.
Long, Keller, Douglas and Denver Broncos wide receiver Eddie Royal comprised a panel called "Transitioning to the NFL." In offering all sorts of helpful advice, they also were quick to admit their mistakes, which provided some of the best lessons of all.
"From Day 1, my strength wasn't where I wanted it to be last year," said Long, who started slowly but improved on the way to registering four sacks.
"You go to the combine and you're all of a sudden off your college weight program and you're not doing heavy weights," Long added. "You're doing speed stuff and (working on having more) explosion because there's a big emphasis on that at the combine. Then you get into this groove where you say, 'I don't have to lift heavy weights anymore.' If somebody's not making you, you're not going to put 500 pounds on your back to squat.
"And I never really got back into that routine, even during the season. In college, they're watching and they make you do the things you need to do in the weight room. But in the pros, if you're not careful, you kind of let yourself go a little bit sometimes in the weight room. You say, 'Oh, I'm tired, my body hurts, maybe I should lighten up.' But you need to emphasize staying heavy with the weights and doing the things that got you here because it's the same grind or more in the pros. You're going to need that strength."
You're also going to need proper nutrition, which Keller found out the hard way. During the season, the Jets, like other NFL teams, serve players breakfast and lunch but not dinner (which is served during training camp). By going out to restaurants every night, Keller, who is single, began following a diet that wasn't conducive to allowing him to be in top physical shape. Nor did it help with his stamina.
He finally spoke with a cook at the Jets' training facility who came up with the idea of preparing a couple of healthy meals that he froze for Keller and other players to prepare at their homes. Keller now plans to do that for the entire 2009 season.
Douglas admits he "kind of messed up" last July, after Falcons coach Mike Smith informed his players they would have the month off and wouldn't be required to do any football activity until training camp began. Douglas traveled and, other than playing some basketball with his brother, did nothing to help his performance on the field.
"To be ahead of the game, going into camp, you still have to do repetitions on football things, speed work, hand drills, routes if you're a receiver and work out like you do as if you were back home with your club," Douglas said. "That's what I'm going to do this year. I'm taking a week off, but as soon as I get back, I'm going to get back into the groove so that I can be ahead when I hit camp."
"This is your job," Royal said. "Nothing else needs to be more important than football. Spending that extra time at the (team) facility shouldn't matter. You shouldn't have anything more important that you've got to get to than taking care of your body because your body is what's going to make you your money."
Another harsh reality that rookies discover is finding out that what allowed them to have success in college doesn't necessarily mean success in the NFL. A rookie must develop techniques that allow him to succeed at the next level.
It isn't, as Long pointed out, so much a case of veteran opponents "knocking you out of your cleats." Rookies can take and deliver hits with the best of them. It's the way the vets go about their business based on years of NFL experience.
As a defensive lineman, Long initially found himself ill-prepared to deal with a quick punch to the chest from then-Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace, one of the game's very best at his position.
"For all the D-linemen out there, you made all these spectacular moves in college, and I did, too," said Long, a former Virginia standout. "They're not going to work here. It's a terrible feeling, but it's empowering to know what you can do with technique."
Rookies often find themselves in a position where, in order to make the final roster, they must perform better than veteran teammates. But that doesn't mean they can't seek the veterans' help and guidance.
As far as Royal is concerned, it's one of the most important steps a rookie can take on the road to success.
"You've got to reach out to these guys; you can't be shy," said Royal, who led all rookies and ranked seventh in the NFL with 91 catches for 980 yards and five touchdowns. "These guys are willing to help. They're your teammates and they want what's best for you and the team. Listen to the veterans. Talk to that guy. It's a long season, and you really need that guy to kind of help you get through it."
Keller leaned heavily on Jets fullback Tony Richardson, who was in his 14th season last year.
"As soon as I got there, I started picking his brain," Keller said. "He must have been doing something right to play at that (demanding) position for so long."