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Every rookie looks poised, confident, dedicated and sharp. Every coach is pleased. Optimism levels run somewhere just above “employee orientation seminar” and below “honeymoon.” The boffo reviews read like the school newspaper’s appraisal of the eighth-grade production of “Hello, Dolly!”
The camps, which began last week for many teams and continue through next week, give draft picks the opportunity to meet their coaches and undrafted free agents a brief chance to make an impression. They are invaluable to the players and the teams. As sources of hard-hitting analysis or insightful criticism, they are somewhat lacking.
Modest accomplishments earn bubbly praise. Accurately calling and executing a play earns a public pat on the back. “He’s unflappable, mature beyond his years,” Indianapolis Coach Chuck Pagano said of quarterback Andrew Luck, the top pick in the draft. “If you listen to some of those play calls that our offensive coordinator Bruce Arians gave him, I know why he’s an architectural engineer.” Arians’s terminology is apparently based on trusses and torsion calculations.
Not to be outdone, Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan gushed about the second overall pick, Robert Griffin III. “You can see what an incredible athlete he is,” he said. “The first day we didn’t have one bust with a formation or a play call. I don’t think I’ve ever had that in any minicamp I’ve been involved with.” Take that, John Elway!
Quarterbacks invariably display outstanding “leadership qualities” at rookie camps, perhaps because there is no pressure whatsoever and they have been barking orders in huddles since their Pop Warner days. It is hard to imagine what a quarterback would have to do to show poor leadership skills during these film sessions, light workouts and noncontact drills — call out sick, perhaps? Or cower in a lavatory stall and refuse to come out to call a play?
of the has less experience than the other highly drafted quarterbacks because he played wide receiver for more than two seasons in college. But all rookie camp stories spin on the positive axis, so Tannehill’s familiarity with the Texas AM offense, which is closely related to the Dolphins’ new offense, actually gives him an edge on other rookies.
“I am sure, as opposed to some of the other rookie quarterbacks that are practicing, he probably feels a little more comfortable when he puts his head on the pillow at night,” said Dolphins Coach Joe Philbin, whose offense also features a high thread count and patented memory foam.
Tannehill’s first pass of rookie camp was an interception or, in rookie-camp speak, a perfect pass that bounced out of an unknown receiver’s hands and into an unknown defender’s arms. Griffin, meanwhile, hit on 14 of 20 passes in Redskins team drills, a 70 percent completion rate exactly as meaningful as his 78-of-84 performance against undefended receivers at his Pro Day. (Griffin himself called Pro Days beauty pageants.)
Off the field, players attended meetings and watched film, no doubt looking incredibly poised while doing so. Griffin watched game tape of Rex Grossman and Donovan McNabb running Shanahan’s offense, which is a little like showing rookie cops but true leaders can learn from counterexamples.
Quarterbacks are not the only players who draw praise during rookie camps. “He was excellent during his first day,” Vikings Coach Leslie Frazier said of offensive tackle , the fourth overall pick. “His ability to pick up information was encouraging as well.”
Kalil said that learning the Vikings’ playbook was simply a matter of translating terminology. “It’s like taking Spanish class in college,” he said. Undergraduate football players take note: dual-major in Spanish and architectural design, and you will become a playbook-absorbing machine when not designing Catalan arches.
Doing exactly what you were drafted to do can generate not only praise, but also the revelation that your coach has little idea whom his team drafted. “Josh caught a punt and he took off like a guy shot out of rocket, and I thought: ‘That guy has a nice little burst. I better see who that is,’ ” Frazier said of Josh Robinson, his team’s third-round pick.
After high school, Brown played basketball for three years at Utah’s Westminster College before he became buried by paperwork for two years as an accountant in a private equity firm. His memories of playing football faded.
Then, a little more than a week ago, the 24-year-old Brown, after months of intensive training and an eye-opening performance at Brigham Young’s pro day, found himself as perhaps the unlikeliest of the 64 players on the field as the opened voluntary workouts.
Brown has been out of football so long that his return does not really classify as a comeback; surely no one at the professional level had heard of him before March 29. On that day, Brown ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds and recorded a 39-inch vertical leap to draw the interest of a half-dozen teams, including the champion Giants.
“All I wanted coming out of the B.Y.U. pro day was a chance,” he said. “I know I have a lot of hard work to do. I’m ready. I just want to make the Dolphins look good.”
Brown’s return to football came about because he was trying to help his brother look good.
Chad Ikei, who runs a training center in Hawaii, met Brown last year when Brown was trying to find someone to work with his brother Braden, an offensive tackle for B.Y.U. with N.F.L. potential.
Ikei was impressed by the questions Brown asked and knew that when Brown was in high school, he had been approached by colleges that wanted him to play football. Ikei tried to persuade him to put his finance career on the sideline and follow an unlikely dream.
Brown was curious enough to meet with Ikei again last December when B.Y.U. played at Hawaii, and he soon decided to move to Oahu to train.
One of a dozen N.F.L. prospects who were working with Ikei, Brown had the furthest to go. After just two sprints on the first day, Brown ended up on the side of a hill in the fetal position, vomiting.
“I wanted to show everyone I meant business,” he said. “The first few reps I went 110 miles per hour. After that, I was gassed.
“That first day definitely opened my eyes.”
Brown had potential but had gone back to finish up his college degree and was recovering from shoulder surgery before he took Ikei’s challenge.
“His base starting point, it was, in the lightest way to put it, pathetic,” Ikei said. “He’s what we call a skinny fat kid. He didn’t have any muscle mass at the time.”
Three months later, Brown had gained 25 pounds, cut his 40 time by three-tenths of a second and trimmed his body fat in half — to 8 percent. He also tapped into the athletic ability and competitiveness that turned him into the defensive stopper for the Westminster College basketball team, which was ranked No. 1 in the N.A.I.A. for a time during Brown’s junior year.
“He responds to challenges,” Westminster Coach Adam Hiatt said. “He came into the program known for his offensive prowess and athletic ability. The challenge for him was to become the best defensive player in our league.
“He took that seriously.”
Brown is raw, but has the size (6 feet 4 inches, 238 pounds) and the athletic ability that teams are looking for as the tight end position evolves.
“The more multiple you can be with formations with certain body types on the field, you can create some advantages for you against the defense,” Joe Philbin, the new coach of the Dolphins, said. “The best-case scenario is he develops into a guy that’s got some versatility.
“He’s in what we call the infancy stage right now.”
So is Miami’s offense.
The team hired Philbin, the former offensive coordinator at Green Bay, and drafted Texas AM quarterback Ryan Tannehill with the No. 8 pick in the draft to improve a passing offense ranked 23rd in 2011.
Philbin relied heavily on tight ends in Green Bay, using as many as four in certain formations. It remains to be seen whether Brown, one of six tight ends on the Dolphins’ roster, will have a role with the team.
Either way, his makeover from an out-of-shape accountant to N.F.L. hopeful has made him a YouTube sensation, with a video drawing more than 1.3 million views.
Ikei has worked with roughly 200 N.F.L. players, including Larry Fitzgerald and Adrian Wilson of the Arizona Cardinals. He said he had received 100 e-mail messages about Brown, from 12-year-old football players looking for advice to a 300-pound woman inspired to stick with an exercise program.
“It’s unbelievable; he’s touching so many people’s lives,” Ikei said. “It made my year of 2012. Nothing can top it. I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do.”
The Dolphins signed Brown to a three-year deal. But Brown said he realized that in the coming months, as a former accountant with a basketball background, he was sure to be a target.
“I’m sure I’ll take my lumps,” he said. “I’m sure there will be some guys who want to knock the basketball guy out, so I’ll be keeping my head on a swivel. But at the same time, I want to get out there and put somebody on his butt, too.”