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NFL players get schooled at Broadcasting Boot Camp

MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. -- Broadcast Boot Camp feels like college orientation. The 23 players here are shuttled from station to station. They don't know their surroundings, occasionally wear a suit and makeup, and perform unfamiliar activities. So comfortable and confident on the field, it's disarming to see NFL players feel so awkward. Except Kris Jenkins. He's full-tilt Kris Jenkins everywhere he goes.

Photo gallery: Broadcast Boot Camp

I spent Tuesday going through classes with all the players accepted to participate in Broadcast Boot Camp this year. Yes, you have to apply. One enterprising NFL PR operative pointed out that only 20 percent of applicants were accepted this year, comparing it to an Ivy League school.

The tuition is free. The curriculum can be challenging.

"It's humbling. You are out of your element," former Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown said. "Out here, you are told you aren't doing this right, that right. Don't look that way. Speak that way. You are not used to it. I've been out of football four years. You get used to being told how great you are. I've been enjoying this change."

I spoke with Brown just after he completed his big taping of the day, so he had a moment to exhale. Tuesday's focus was on studio shows. Each player tapes a segment with Curt Menefee of Fox or James Brown of CBS. (Wednesday has a local coverage focus, while Thursday wraps up with game analysis.)

The anxiety and nerves on set are palpable. Only a handful of these guys look comfortable. Each player gets two takes, and they usually loosen up after the first one.

"It will be interesting to see the tape," former Packers tackle Mark Tauscher said. "You know when you screw up playing football. It's not the same way here."

The players range from active (Nate Burleson, Michael Robinson, Joel Dreessen) to retired (Chad Brown, Jenkins) to free agents (Melvin Bullitt and Patrick Crayton).

Producers give honest feedback about what players can improve after their segment is done. No one is coddled.

"Say what you have to say to me," Brown said. "I've played for Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. I'm used to being criticized. It doesn't bother me one bit.

Hour-long sessions on Tuesday ranged from tape study with Ron Jaworski and Greg Cosell to voice coaching to a live radio session on Sirius-NFL Radio.

The boot camp moniker makes a lot of sense. While everyone involved is encouraging and full of information, no one sugarcoats that the broadcast industry is a tough road. Fans have an image that ex-players are just handed gigs, but it doesn't work that way for the vast majority. Big names get jobs, but names alone won't keep them. The players here are hungry and don't need to be reminded they are starting all over.

An emphasis is placed on what not to do. Awful radio clips are aired. Examples of screen tests gone wrong are shown.

"I've learned 10 times more things here in a day than I thought I knew," Brown said.

It's not exactly "Scared Straight" for broadcasters, but it's close. The players here uniformly appreciate the opportunity to be in front of decision makers. They crave the training. Breakfast starts at 6:30 a.m. and they don't get back to the hotel until after 8 p.m.

Every minute on the schedule is accounted for, and that continues for all three days. It's training camp without the fight songs. The odds of making a team are even slimmer. But NFL players are used to beating long odds.

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