For rookie quarterbacks, vacation isn’t what it seems

The top two selections in the 2012 NFL draft have each made significant impressions on their new NFL teams, but now that mandatory minicamps are wrapping up, there's the five-week period between now and when training camp begins. The specificities of the new collective bargaining agreement have teams on the blocks in a practice sense between now and then, so for Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts and Robert Griffin of the Washington Redskins, maintaining the progress they've made will be all about doing their own thing.

That doesn't mean that it's time to plan relaxing vacations. Now, the time has come for Luck, Griffin, and every other quarterback selected in this year's draft to make the most of the next month, when veterans and many coaches are out doing other things. This time can often separate the potential starters from the also-rans; especially in places where there's open competition at the quarterback position.

Seattle's Russell Wilson, who's swimming upstream in a three-way derby while Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson battle for the prize, impressed enough through minicamps to have his name put in the hat by head coach Pete Carroll. There are times during non-contact practices when Wilson looks like the best quarterback on the team, but the third-round pick from Wisconsin understands that there's much work to be done. To that end, he's spending the time between now and training camp with his head in the books and his eyes on the screen. It's especially important for young quarterbacks like Wilson, whose reps and opportunities are limited by the reduced minicamp schedule mandated by the new collective bargaining agreement.

"Well, there's only so much you can do with the CBA, so you really have to work on your own personal game," Wilson said after he got the starters' reps on the Seahawks' final minicamp day on Thursday. "That's something you can always do; improve, and watch tons of film. That's the main thing -- just keep finding ways to improve, because you do have a long season ahead of you.

"I'm staying here in Seattle; it's my new home. So, I'm here the whole time, though I may go back to Richmond [Virginia] for a couple of days, because I run a [football] camp there. But I'm really excited to get in here, watch my film, and really criticize myself -- find out the things I'm doing really well, and the things I can do better, and just keep growing from that."

For Luck and Griffin, their status as the first two overall picks on quarterback-barren teams means that they'll be thrown in the fire right away. So, as much as both have impressed through their first steps in the NFL, the crash course is far from over -- in fact, it may be accelerating.

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Luck was forbidden from attending any practices until his classes let out at Stanford last week -- he couldn't even talk football with his coaches -- which set him up for a shortfall of experience. Tight end Coby Fleener, his teammate at Stanford and his teammate now, commuted between Indy and Palo Alto to keep him up on things. As much as Luck is pro-ready, and he certainly is that, there are serious challenges ahead. Fortunately, he has the game intelligence to work through it. "There were a little too many incompletions for my liking," Luck said of his Thursday efforts. "But it's always good to get in the red zone. It's sort of a compressed field and [you] see some different blitzes and try to throw hot and see how the receivers work in the red zone and how the line works."

"Like we've said all along, he is off the charts, as far as football IQ," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said on Tuesday, the first day that Luck could actually throw to his veteran NFL teammates. "There are no mental errors. The same thing we saw at rookie minicamp with what we gave him until coming back now, he hasn't missed a beat. He is a really bright kid. He is really focused and he is really driven. Obviously, the success he has had to this point, there is a reason behind all of that. It is because football is very, very important to him."

Still, there are certain things about the game that can only be solved by time. If there's one quarterback who seems to be ahead of that curve, it's Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner whom the Redskins gave up a closetful of high draft picks to move up and select. Griffin has been amazing in minicamps by all accounts, and he's adapted very quickly in a transition to Washington's West Coast Offense scheme and terminology, but he's in the same boat as all the other rookies. Just when the momentum gets rolling, the NFL pulls the rug out from under them.

"I want him to relax and stuff, and not just be stressed out about it all the time, but it's too hard a position," Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan recently said about taking long breaks away from such a demanding job. "To me, it's one of the hardest positions in the world. It's a lot. There's only really 32 people on the planet who can do it, and according to most people, only 10 of those guys are what people want. If it's not something you're working at every day, you can't just show up and get it done."

"I've just got to continue to focus on football," Griffin concluded. "That's what it's all about. This is the longest year of your life, supposedly, for rookies coming straight out of college, going right into combine training, pro days, minicamps, OTAs. It just keeps going. I'm not going to be sad about it or be mad about it. I live a blessed life, and I'm going to go out and make sure I continue to live that blessed life."

But should there be a few more official reps in the part of that blessed life between the last minicamp and the first training camp? I asked Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll on Thursday whether he thought coaches might eventually opine to the NFL that the offseason practice schedule should be extended. Carroll, whose team was docked two of those practices for contact the league deemed illegal, deferred that notion to the people most affected by the current schedule.

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"I think this is going to come from the players," he said. "I think if any movement is going to be made at all the players are going to have to decide what they think is best and what they would like to have. I would be surprised if they think that this is a good thing -- they can't throw the football and play catch out here as quarterbacks and receivers. I don't think that they're going to like that, because it's not convenient for them at all. But we'll find out. It's up to them. They'll have to go some to get together. They'll have to generate an opinion — a collective opinion — and then, whatever [happens]. I don't even know how the process works. I don't see [coaches] having any factor in that at all."

Surely the coaches have opinions on these barriers to the development process? "We have lots of opinions," Carroll said with a laugh. "We just don't have any say in it. So what we'll do is make the best of whatever it is. I hope there will be some evaluations done by the players so that they get it right. It doesn't matter to me. We can't do anything about it, and it's equal across the board [from team to team], so there's no reason to spend any more energy on it."

Spending energy on it will be a host of rookie quarterbacks, if they know what's good for them. The next few weeks of relative inactivity (which is up to them) will determine their short-term futures to a serious degree.

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