(Editor's note: This piece, which ran in 2012, has been modified for 2013.)
On Friday, the Patriots will begin their initial minicamp of the 2013 offseason, and this one will include only rookies.
That means seven draft picks and a large crop of undrafted free agents will have the field to themselves, and the attention of the coaching staff will be squarely focused on the newest Patriots.
Drawing on my experience during my time in Kansas City working in the scouting and coaching departments with the Chiefs, I can distinctly remember rookies showing up for what amounted to their first days on the job.
Despite having seen much of each player on film throughout his college career, I was anxious to see what each offered when viewed in person on the practice field.
It wasn’t uncommon during rookie minicamp for a receiver to make an impressive catch or for a linebacker to break on a pass and snare an interception. Those types of plays make you want to project what sort of pro a rookie will become, but that’s not what rookie minicamp is all about.
More importantly during practice, I took further notice of the rookies’ builds (this wasn’t always easy to capture on film), honed in on some of their physical attributes, and noted how they interacted with their newest teammates and coaches during drills.
From the coaches’ standpoint, minicamp serves as a teaching and repetition opportunity for the players. Developing consistency is an integral step to sustaining an NFL career for a rookie. That’s achieved – in part – by repetitions, something that each rookie should have plenty of during this minicamp. Coaches will use these reps as an opportunity to observe and teach, and they will later review it on film with the rookies.
“Highlight-reel” plays (if such a thing is possible in shorts, t-shirts and helmets on the football field) won’t be ignored, but every coach knows enough that no player has made his NFL fortune off of a single practice play in May.
And rookie minicamps are about much more than just what you can take away from watching practice.
Aside from a select group of high draft choices, these players are spending their first days in Foxborough, a place that could become home to many of them for several seasons.
Gillette Stadium will serve as their office, and this weekend affords the rookies a chance to familiarize themselves with their bearings in the absence of 70-75 other veteran players. Learning where their positional meeting rooms, the training room, and the weight room are is an important task to check-off the list this weekend.
It’s also a chance to spend invaluable time with the coaching staff learning the playbook. Regardless of where these rookies played in college, there will be a steep learning curve involved with picking up an NFL system, which will include new terminology, concepts, and an increased amount of responsibility for each. No one knows the schemes and methods involved better than the coaches, and having a chance to pick their brains is critical for rookies.
Also not to be lost during rookie minicamp is that this weekend will be the first chance for the Patriots 2013 coaching staff to work together on the field. Although the staff remains largely intact from a season ago, it marks the first time that veteran coach Brian Daboll, who joined the team in January in the playoffs, will be starting at this point with his fellow coaches.
The Patriots have long appeared to have a strong rapport amongst their coaching staff, and the chance to further develop that this weekend is another benefit to on-field work.
In sum, it’s important that we remember rookie minicamp is about more than just which players stand out – positively or negatively – during a single play on the field.
This weekend is about establishing familiarity for rookies, allowing them ample time to meet with their position coaches without veterans around, and providing them with more repetitions during practice drills than many are likely to see in further team practices.
Like the voluntary workouts that preceded them and the minicamps that are soon to follow, it’s another important piece of the puzzle as the Patriots prepare for the 2013 season.