Born-again freshmen earning their stripes

Rookies face many challenges as they attempt to make the jump to the pro level, such as adjusting to the speed of the game and learning an entirely new playbook. But there is another hurdle all rookies must clear before they can begin their professional careers in earnest – they must overcome the challenges of being freshman all over again.

Let's face it, no one likes being a freshman. You don't know anybody; you feel like an outsider; and you second-guess nearly every decision you make. That is exactly what the San Diego Chargers' rookies are going through.

"I definitely feel like a freshman again," said Jyles Tucker, a rookie outside linebacker from Wake Forest. "As an undrafted free agent, I don't want to ask too many questions because I don't have much room to mess up. The veterans have all been in the system for years now and already know what they're doing."

Some rookies have it easier than others. For example, fourth-round pick Scott Chandler is joined in San Diego by fellow rookies Miguel Merrick and Mike Jones, all of whom went to school at Iowa. That trio has formed a bond with three other former Hawkeyes on the Chargers' roster (Nate Kaeding, Derreck Robinson and Mike Goff), making their transition a bit easier.

"It helps have familiar faces around, especially the three vets," Merrick said. "It gives you someone you can ask questions about what to do and what to stay away from."

However, most of the rookies don't have that luxury. What makes their transition especially daunting is the star-laden nature of San Diego's line-up. For rookies like Reggie Merriweather, a running back from Clemson, it is difficult not to be overwhelmed.

"It's freshman year all over again," Merriweather said. "I'm playing with guys like LaDainian Tomlinson and Lorenzo Neal, people I'm used to watching on television."

It helps a little bit that most of the Chargers' veterans are willing to show rookies the ropes. In fact, the only Charger with a reputation for being unhelpful to young players was Donnie Edwards, a problem the Kansas City Chiefs' rookies can now deal with.

In San Diego, veterans like Eric Parker, Kris Dielman, Shaun Phillips and Marlon McCree are all well known for their willingness to help rookies get caught up to speed.

Although such help is greatly appreciated, every rookie must earn his own stripes. That is not an easy thing for many of these young players, who quickly went from being a big fish in college to a feeder fish in the NFL. For these born-again freshmen, it will take every ounce of effort to keep from being eaten alive.


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