- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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There is football. There is life. And then there is life in football.
And when the Denver Broncos look at this year’s rookie class, they see players like cornerback Bradley Roby, wide receiver Cody Latimer, tackle Michael Schofield and linebacker Lamin Barrow, players who are expected to contribute plenty to the 2014 season. The are potential starters on that list, or if the Broncos have good fortune, there could be others among the first-year players overall who earn their way on to the depth chart.
But to get those contributions on the field, those players will not only have to digest a far beefier playbook than ever before, but they will have to find a way to acclimate quickly to football as a job.
Asked what was more difficult for rookies, to adapt on the field or off of it, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who made the Broncos as an undrafted rookie in 2011, answered without hesitation.
“I would say life, just making sure everything is straight,’’ Harris Jr. said. “It’s like a totally different adventure that you’re going on, people blowing you up all the time, friends and family. The football, this is what you want to do, where you kind of hoped you’d be, it kind of gets you away from the rest for a little bit. Life distractions can’t get you on the field, or you can’t let them. But the key is to limit those life distractions. I’ve always kind of kept my circle small.’’
That thought is straight out of the Book of Bailey, as in Champ Bailey. The former Broncos cornerback, a 12-time Pro Bowl selection who signed with the New Orleans Saints after the Broncos released him, routinely talked about how he limited access to his affairs to a small group.
Or as former Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith has said; “The guys who have too much going outside these walls find themselves on the outside real quick, looking in on the guys who took care of their business. Some guys just don’t figure that out fast enough.’’
“These younger guys, they come in and a lot of times they’ve got a big circle,’’ Harris Jr. “That can be tough. Champ, he had a small circle, real small. So small it almost wasn’t a circle, but I watched, I learned and I never really had the kind of issues some guys had.’’
The team’s rookies did their first on-field work on their own last week, but this week the full team will gather on the field for the first set of organized team activities (OTAs). The rookies have spent some of the last two weeks participating in meetings with the team’s veteran players, so they have had a taste of the football side of things.
The Broncos have also tried to show the team’s newest players how to prepare for some of the other issues they will face.
“You approach it like your children,’’ said Broncos head coach John Fox. “You try to give them wisdom in all areas: Off the field, the dos and don’ts in our city, where to go and not to go. Jerry Butler, our player development guy and our chaplain, our coaches. They’re just great resources. [Team owner] Pat Bowlen does a great job as far as getting people and resources here to help these young men, really in all areas.”
It has been a front-burner issue for the Broncos on all fronts to be sure. The team had a rocky ride off the field during last year’s offseason when front-office executives Matt Russell and Tom Heckert were each arrested for DUI offenses and All Pro linebacker Von Miller was suspended for six games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy to go with an arrest for a missed court date and some traffic violations.
And this offseason has now already had a bump or two as well. This past week free-agent signee T.J. Ward was charged with misdemeanor assault and disturbing the peace for an incident in a Denver strip club and Russell was sentenced to seven months in jail for last summer’s arrest.
It has all had the Broncos continuing to evaluate the resources they have available for players and other team employees. Fox has described it “as letting guys know what we have available to them and encourage them every chance we get to use those resources. It’s there and we want them to use it.’’
For the team’s rookies it can be as basic as the team’s nutritionist creating meal plans to others helping to locate apartments and finding a bank. All with clearing away enough things so they first-year players can get down to the business of football.
“It’s like 100 percent different,’’ Schofield said. “A lot more complicated It’s all different now.’’
“I plan on getting things in order so I can really get to the football side of things,’’ Barrow said. “I just want to be in the hip pocket of the veteran guys to learn everything I can. I feel like I’ll ask all the questions I can and they’ve said they’ll help with everything.’’
14hEric D. Williams