Rolle’s commitment called into question

INDIANAPOLIS – Most NFL coaches and executives would be ecstatic if Myron Rolle was their son or their daughter’s date.

Rolle played at FSU for three years.
(Dave Martin/AP Photo)

Drafting him is another matter.

Welcome to proof of the NFL adage: You want players to be smart, just not too smart. Rolle is an example of a gifted, driven, accomplished young man. He’s a guy who could survive and thrive without playing mankind’s version of demolition derby.

Rolle is a man with options and that makes NFL types, some of whom would be teaching P.E. in high school if not for the pro game, very uneasy.

“We’ll have to find out how committed he is,” an NFC assistant coach said, echoing the sentiment of five other NFL types leading up to this weekend’s scouting combine. “Committed” is a euphemism for desire, care, passion and whatever other combination of emotions goes into wanting to play football enough to make it a career.

Trainer Tom Shaw, who has worked with Rolle for the past year, understands the process very well. Having trained the likes of Peyton Manning(notes), Chris Johnson and Deion Sanders, a total of 118 former first-round picks and nine straight Super Bowl Most Valuable Players before this year, Shaw hears the criticism and shakes his head.

“I hear all the negative things that he has too many things going on in his life,” Shaw said. “But if [the NFL] is saying that Myron Rolle is a bad example, that’s a joke. … Myron is what you want all these kids to be. Every one of these kids should want to be Myron Rolle.

“The reason I say he’s going to be a 10-year veteran is he’s a guy who is going to out-work everybody. He’s not just going to rest on his athletic ability.”

Truly, everyone should strive to be like Rolle, a Rhodes Scholar and safety from Florida State who hopes to one day become a neurosurgeon and has already started a foundation to promote physical fitness.

That said, Shaw knows from personal experience that some NFL coaches are looking for men with a little more moral flexibility. He saw that first hand when he worked for the New Orleans Saints and Mike Ditka was the head coach.

“Mike Ditka wanted a serial killer,” Shaw said, splicing humorous overstatement with a deadpan delivery. “He didn’t want a guy who had other things going on. When he was asking questions, he wanted to know what you were going to do. If your mother was sick, were you going to miss a game?

“When coaches ask you what’s important in your life, usually you can get away with saying God, then family, then football. But a lot of coaches out there want to hear football, then God, then family.”

Rolle has returned to football after a year at Oxford University in England where he worked toward a master’s in medical anthropology. He’s still studying while training and must return later for a final week of classes and then for exams before graduating. He is an absurdly polite young man with personality and charisma.

“The impression I get from people around the NFL – not necessarily in it, but around it – is that the NFL wants players for whom football is their No. 1 priority, their No. 2 priority and their No. 3 priority,” Rolle said.

“For me, I’ve never been someone with a singular talent. I have other abilities and interests and I think I would be doing a disservice to me, my team, my family, everyone who has invested stock in me if I was just so isolated in one thing. … The thing I always try to present to people in the NFL as far as my commitment is that my academics and my concerns at Oxford or as an outside philanthropist can help my football abilities. It can help me be someone more disciplined on the field, help me be someone more balanced and knowledgeable. It can help the other guys if they want to get involved in the foundation or the community rather than going out and partying or getting in trouble somehow.”

That’s a noble explanation, but Rolle recently ran headlong into the flipside of that argument. During a 45-minute interview before the Senior Bowl in January with seven members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff, including head coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik, one member of the staff asked Rolle what it felt like to desert his team this season.

“I hadn’t heard that one before,” said Rolle, who pauses ever so slightly before answering to consider his thoughts. “My initial reaction was a bit of confusion. It never was anger, but I was more bothered by the question because if anyone knew my involvement with my teammates, how much they care about me and how much I care about them.”

For instance, when Rolle pledged his college fraternity (Kappa Alpha PSI), 30 teammates not involved in the frat showed up to cheer him on at probate, when new members are revealed. The night before his Rhodes interview, dozens of them sent text messages to encourage him and one even called him the night before to pepper him with questions that might be asked.

“He had no idea what they’d ask, but he just wanted to help,” Rolle said. “I think if they were in the same position, they would feel I was making the right choice.”

Still, all this talk makes NFL folks a tad uneasy. They don’t criticize Rolle straight out, they just wonder what might happen when the game gets a little too rough.

You know, like on the first day of full practice in pads.

“I’m committed to staying and playing football as long as I have the athletic ability,” said Rolle, who admittedly tried to send that message on the first day of Senior Bowl practices when he leveled Alabama tight end Colin Peek on a sweep play.

“Eighty percent of that was to show I’m serious about this, to show people this is what I’m about,” Rolle acknowledges. “I could have easily broke down, just put my hands [on him] and try to move him and then make the tackle. Why do that when I can make a statement by blasting the tight end? I had to send a message.

Rolle prepares to take down Tim Tebow in 2008.
(Marc Serota/Getty Images)

“If something were to happen and a doctor was to say I can’t walk anymore or if I had another concussion and I wasn’t able to think properly then that’s something to consider strongly as far as my future career. But when I’m on the field, I don’t think about injuries, I don’t think about being a doctor. I think about how I’m going to knock this player out or how I’m going to get an interception.”

There is a wide-ranging debate about how good Rolle is, exacerbated by the fact he hasn’t played in a year. Some NFL types think he could be a second-round pick. Aside from Tampa Bay, the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots have all spent extensive time with Rolle and all are teams that put a premium on intelligence.

Other teams think he’s barely worth drafting.

“He’s a better story than he is a player,” one NFC executive wrote via text message.

Likewise, NFL.com draft analyst and former Dallas executive Gil Brandt said Rolle could easily fall to the final day of the draft.

“He’s hard to figure at this point. The first round is almost impossible because he hasn’t played in a year. I don’t see that. Fourth or fifth round is possible. It’s hard to know.”

That said, Brandt, who helped draft the likes of Roger Staubach, Bob Hayes and Randy White, said the question of commitment is almost silly.

“I would say he’s committed when he does what he did against Maryland. Takes an entrance exam then jumps on a plane to play in a game,” Brandt said of the November day in ’08 when Rolle had his final interview for the Rhodes Scholarship in Birmingham, Ala., then flew to College Park. “He easily could have said, ‘I can’t make it.’ That showed me he’s committed.”

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Feb 25, 2010