Rookies lose valuable learning tool

"That's all well and good, but what happens if the witch hits you first? I'm not going to just stand there and take it."

When I heard those words come out of the mouth of one of our better players, I realized just how different an environment I was in and how vital programs like the one we were taking part in really were.

It was 2001 and I was a rookie with the Washington Redskins taking part in a mandatory player program at the team's facility in Ashburn, Va. We had just sat through a presentation on domestic abuse and been told everything we needed to know about it: If the cops come, they are going to take somebody away and that somebody is normally the man; it is much better to leave and remove yourself voluntarily from the situation rather than allowing the situation to escalate and potentially become violent, etc.

The overriding theme was to never, ever, under any circumstances, hit a woman. Seemed pretty obvious and self-explanatory to me. In fact, I thought it was borderline insulting that we had to sit through an hour presentation on a subject that I thought was common sense.

At least I thought it was common sense until they opened the floor for questions. Who in their right mind, I thought, could possibly have a question about this subject matter?

Then I heard one of our players, a seasoned vet, ask the fateful question (no, he didn't use the word "witch" … use your imagination), and heard several others back him up and agree with him. Oh boy, I thought, this is going to take awhile …

So what does 2001 have to do with 2011? Well, for the first time since 1997, there will not be an NFL-sponsored rookie symposium for this year's class
after it was announced last week that the NFL had canceled the program as a casualty of the ongoing lockout. (The NFLPA announced Tuesday that it would hold a two-day educational program for rookies at the end of June.)

That means more than 250 drafted rookies (undrafted players do not attend) will miss out on an intensive three-day orientation that helps prepare them for NFL life on and off the field. They watch presentations by panels (consisting of either current or former NFL players) and then discuss the content of those panels in breakout groups. The subjects range from financial education to maintaining one's sexual health and everything in between.

That makes the Class of 2011 something of an experiment. And not a good one, mind you. Though every team will still have a few player programs for their rookies to take part in during the season (if there is a season), it is not the same as the symposium.

The league, NFLPA and media will all now be able to closely follow this year's crop of freshly minted pro football players and see how the lack of a symposium affects their careers both on and off the field, and see how they compare to other classes both before and after.

It is far from a controlled scientific experiment, to be sure. These are different human beings, after all, who will be making these life decisions. The lack of OTAs and minicamps likely will make things even harder for this group and could no doubt impact these rookies' off-field decision-making as well.

That's not to say that the rookie symposium is some sort of a miracle drug. It's not. Adam Jones once attended the symposium and he has been in trouble with the law so many times I lost count.

Jones notwithstanding, the symposium does increase the awareness level of every single player who goes through it. And it also takes away players' ability to plead ignorance. You can't say you didn't know about the NFL's policy on street drugs when it's announced loud and clear in front of you and former stars such as Cris Carter and Irving Fryar are brought in to discuss openly and honestly the issues that they had with drug abuse early in their careers.

So while it isn't a foolproof program, the symposium is a fantastic investment by the NFL. Unfortunately for everyone involved, it won't happen this year. Only time will tell how much of an impact that ultimately will have on these young men, their respective teams and the NFL.

From the inbox

Q: I keep reading that some of the draftees are better suited as a DT in a 4-3 (the three-technique) or DE in a 3-4 (the five-technique). What is the difference between a three- and five-technique player?

Rich in Blue Point, N.Y.

A: The biggest difference between the two is their body type and it really is a product of what they are asked to do, though there are some players like a Richard Seymour who are so talented that they could excel in either spot.

The three-technique is a defensive tackle who lines up on the outside shoulder of the offensive guard and quite often as wide as the gap between the guard and the offensive tackle. In several defensive schemes, most notably the Tampa 2 defense, his job is getting upfield penetration and wreaking havoc in the backfield. Think Warren Sapp during his heyday with the Bucs or, before his health began to deteriorate, Tommie Harris. Three-techniques are typically short and thick, and possess unbelievable quickness for their size.

The five-technique in a 3-4 defense usually lines up head up on the offensive tackle. His job is to control that tackle by putting his hands in the tackle's chest and locking his arms out. Controlling the lineman is the priority while shedding him and making the tackle in either direction is a bonus. Because they are asked to "lock out" mammoth offensive tackles, long arms are considered vital and that is why taller players such as the Steelers' Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel are ideal in this role.

Q: The Detroit Lions had a good draft, but do you think their secondary is good enough to allow them to compete for a playoff spot? What do you think they need in free agency?

Sean in Saint Clair Shores, Mich.

A: Your questions go hand in hand. The Lions need to get better in the secondary and I would expect them to focus on that area in free agency. I do think they could potentially make the playoffs with their secondary as it is right now, but their vaunted defensive line would have to be as good as advertised and really help them out by not giving the opposing quarterback any time to really throw the ball down the field.

Q: Most people only care about what happens on the field, but I am interested in what happens in the locker room and the business end of it. You stated that you were an undrafted free agent. Could you explain how that process went down. Did you get a call during the end rounds of the draft from teams showing interest? Did other teams offer you a deal besides the Redskins?

Kevin from Drums, Pa.

A: You've got a pretty good feel for how it goes down. Teams call the players or the agents of the players in whom they are interested during the late rounds. Then, after the draft, an open-market bidding process ensues and players and their agents make their decisions based on both signing bonus amounts and opportunities to make rosters. I got a call from the Bengals during the draft, but I was such an under-the-radar prospect that the Redskins were the only team to offer me a shot -- for a signing bonus of zero dollars and zero cents. Yet it remains one of the five best days of my life.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams during a seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.