by Trevor Whenham - 05/19/2006
The NFL season is still a long way off, but mini-camps provide the first look we get at the high-profile rookies that teams picked up in the first round of the draft. The mini-camps are so early in the process of player development that they don't really tell us anything about what the players are going to play like when the season starts. Still, for true football fans, they are a first look, and that's better than nothing. Here some news about eight of the high profile rookies that came out of their first camps:
Mario Williams - On the field Williams looked very good, performing well in drills and making good plays. The team is taking him under its wings, and he feels welcomed and supported. The one challenged he faced is the one he better get used to. As he crossed the field to go to a meeting a crowd of reporters followed him. He looked uncomfortable then, but that kind of intense scrutiny isn't going to fade any time soon, especially if he doesn't start out well. If he doesn't get used to it, it could be an ugly year.
Reggie Bush - Bush hurt his hamstring at his first mini-camp practice, and had to skip the rest of the practices. He was forced to just do walk-throughs instead. An MRI showed that it isn't a serious problem and he should be back to full strength within a week. I'm not entirely sure the Saints care how quickly he gets back. Sure, they want him to contribute, but he's so talented that he is going to no matter what. Besides, he has already led the team to an all-time record for season tickets sales, so they can't say he isn't doing his part whether he can run or not.
Vince Young - Young found himself in an unfamiliar place during most of his first NFL mini-camp - under center. That's a big adjustment for a player who took about 95 percent of his snaps in the shotgun last season. There were reportedly a couple of fumbled snaps, but for the most part Young looked good. He's such an athletic freak that he shouldn't have too much trouble making the transition. Ben Roethlisberger took most his college snaps in the shotgun, but he managed to do okay in the pros. Young should be the same way, especially since he won't be looked upon to start at the beginning of the year.
D'Brickashaw Ferguson - Ferguson impressed coaches and spectators with his work ethic in the first peek they got at him on the field. He's normally very talkative, but when he talked to the press during the camp he was short but polite, and stayed on the message that he'll protect the quarterback whoever it happens to be. It's hard to get a true sense of how Ferguson looked at the camp, because coach Eric Mangini was at his first camp as a coach, too, so there were some inevitable bumps during the camp.
Vernon Davis - If you believe every thing you read, Davis isn't going to need to use the Golden Gate Bridge, because he can just walk on the water. Expectations are huge for the tight end in San Francisco. Mini-camp didn't give us any reason to believe or doubt that he will succeed, but it did give an interesting insight into his toughness. Davis drew a blocking assignment on a play and ended up in a major shoving match with linebacker Parys Haralson. Seeing that kind of feisty spirit in his first practice bodes well for his season.
Donte Whitner - Next to Mario Williams, no player will be under more scrutiny, and be expected to fail, more than Whitner. People don't question that he has some talent, but picking him at 8th is being called one of the bigger stretches in draft history. At mini-camp he hardly saw any time with the first teamers, but veterans were impressed by his fiery attitude. The Bills are changing up their defense to more of a Tampa Bay style, so the safety position is crucial. Whitner will be competing for a starting position once he gets up to speed. The Bills seem willing to ease him into it. That's probably doing him a favor, because fans won't cut him much slack if he doesn't start playing well from the start.
Matt Leinart - Mr. Paris Hilton spent much of his first mini-camp doing what he's going to be doing most of the year - standing around and learning from watching Kurt Warner run the first team offense. Coach Dennis Green hopes Leinart doesn't have to see a snap all season. Leinart's attitude was reportedly good throughout the camp, and he showed he was a fast learner, but everyone already knew that about him.
Jay Cutler - The Vanderbilt alum impressed at his first camp. He threw tight spirals and his passes were on target. His receivers were glowing with their praise after the practices. Speculation is already rampant that Cutler could pass Bradlee Van Pelt and land the primary backup role behind Jake Plummer to start the season.