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NFL Rookie Symposium has valuable message, but will it stick?

  • By Jeff Darlington
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BEREA, Ohio -- The football fields were packed with little folks Tuesday, each one managing to make even this crop of NFC rookies look like old, wise men during the NFL's "Play 60" youth event at the Cleveland Browns' training facility.

These few hours marked the first time players at the NFL Rookie Symposium had left their hotel after two days of intense rap sessions about life in the NFL. It was also their first opportunity to do the teaching, rather than the listening.

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"I was just telling them to keep going no matter how tired you are," said Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne, the sixth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. "When they got to our session, they were tired -- so we were just trying to pump them up and keep them going."

OK, so maybe the advice wasn't quite as deep or dramatic as the guidance players have received since Sunday, but a little break from the serious stuff might be in order. Monday's sessions at the symposium were particularly striking, continuing to resonate with players in the wake of powerful speeches from Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam Jones.

"One of the speakers that really got to me was Michael Vick," Claiborne said. "Hearing his story -- you hear it all the time on TV and you see the shows -- but seeing him actually tell his story in person really got to me. It just goes to show you, at any moment, it can be taken away from you."

In separate sessions (Jones in the morning and Vick in the afternoon), the players shared stories of what led to their widely publicized transgressions. Both players made a point to say they didn't listen to the advice of others when they were young players, something they hoped these rookies would do more effectively.

"They were telling us how they sat in our seats, and they were hearing somebody tell them things, but they weren't really listening to them," said Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers, the 14th overall pick. "I think that's the biggest thing about it. Just embracing everything they said and taking it to heart."

This year's rookie symposium has so far been considerably different from other such events in the past. In particular, the sessions have been more intimate, with NFC and AFC rookies going through the symposium at separate times. (While the NFC event began Sunday, the AFC side of things kicks off Wednesday.) Also, Vick and Jones are surely among the most polarizing athletes to share such dramatic stories.

The rookies had no idea what to expect when they arrived -- just as they have little idea what's ahead for them in their NFL careers -- but it all seems to be sinking in at the same time.

"We're going into this thing blindly," said Giants wide receiver Rueben Randle, a second-round pick. "We don't know what's happening. We've got guys coming in, sharing the experiences they had.

"It's at least giving us a little step toward what we can expect."

Said Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox: "It makes you think. It's a good thing guys like that come back and tell you about the mistakes they made. Every decision you make, good or bad, can have a consequence."

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But will these players carry these messages with them? Will they heed the warnings from Vick and Jones in a way that both of those players failed to do when they were on the opposite end of these talks?

That remains to be seen. But at least in the moment, they seem to be taking the advice to heart.

"I'm listening," Brockers said. "Just learning from their mistakes, trying to do things the right way."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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