NFL hoping players avoid rookie mistakes

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins rookie cornerback Vontae Davis faced a semicircle of cameras and microphones to talk about a disconcerting incident he recently endured.

Behind him, Oakland Raiders receiver Louis Murphy crept, grasped the hem of Davis' shorts and yanked them down.

Symbolic, really.

The main message of the NFL Rookie Symposium, a mandatory four-day orientation at PGA National Resort and Spa, is "watch your back at all times."

For the past 13 years, the league has conducted seminars to counsel draft picks on how to act like professionals. With the misdeeds of Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress filling headlines, commissioner Roger Goodell wants to get new players indoctrinated immediately.

"I think it's great what [Goodell] is doing for the league, cleaning it up and really doing a great job of holding guys to a higher standard," said Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick. "They just try to introduce the rookies to that and to the policy and how strict it is."

A significant aspect of being new pros is protecting themselves now that they're on the big stage. These players are young and often naive. Many come from modest backgrounds. They're about to receive steady paychecks with lots of commas. That makes them targets.

"The biggest thing is 'no' has to be the favorite word in your vocabulary," Davis said. "You can't be afraid to say 'no.' Most people are friendly. It's hard for them to actually say 'no.' But they're going to have to learn. They might have to go to a "no" class where they say 'no' a thousand times.

"I sit is a room every day and say 'no, no, no.' I practice it."

Davis is more aware than most of his 2009 draft classmates.

He recently was the victim of identity theft. Last week, an impostor provided Davis' full name and address when cited for a couple tickets in Champaign, Ill., where the real Davis went to college. Davis was with the Dolphins at the time of the traffic stop.

Davis said his wallet had been stolen from his car while he was attending Illinois. He canceled his credit cards and obtained a new license -- the old one was issued in Washington D.C., the new one was from Maryland -- and didn't think about it again until reports of an arrest surfaced.

On Monday, we learned another schmo was passing himself off as Dolphins receiver Davone Bess through a Twitter account.

"We talk about this stuff every week in our player development meetings," Davis said. "To actually see it happen to you, you're like, 'Wow.' It wakes you up. This stuff is serious. It's really serious."

The NFL brings in several speakers each year to discuss everything from life choices to finances to charity work to the importance of history.

This year's program included NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, retired running back Jerome Bettis, Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and St. Louis Rams linebacker Chris Draft.

One of the more compelling speakers had to be former Jacksonville Jaguars tackle Richard Collier, who was shot 14 times last September. He is paralyzed from the waist down and had his left leg amputated. (Edit: The NFL later announced Collier didn't speak as scheduled. He canceled because of illness.)

"It's about making smart decisions," Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith said. "You definitely want to remember that because you not only can hurt yourself but your organization. You don't want to draw that kind of negative attention to your team."

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez recounted appropriate words of advice Southern California coach Pete Carroll and New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter gave him.

"You've got to be smart and protect yourself, protect your team," Sanchez recalled Jeter telling him recently.

"Coach Carroll said the same thing: If you love something and respect something with all your heart, you'll do everything you can to protect it. This is what I've always wanted to do."