More than 155 entry-level players in the NFL attended a two-day symposium at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fl., organized by the league's Players Association. Typically, the league itself hosts the annual rookie symposium, but the lockout made that scenario impossible.
The event had a loaded itinerary, including fitness training by IMG strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman, a community service event in partnership with a local YMCA, a few guest speakers and various lectures on finance and fiscal responsibility.
"You have to really conserve your money, especially with this lockout situation going on. You can't be going out spending the money like you've signed a multi-million dollar contract you have to be extremely responsible and be conservative," said Blaine Gabbert, quarterback and 10th overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"This was a man that was on top of the world—had the deals, had the money, everything—and in a blink of an eye it was all taken away from him, like in seconds," said third overall pick Marcell Dareus, a defensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills. "So it's true that there is stuff that happens in life that can take a lot from you and when you think back you're like ‘man what was I thinking?'"
In addition to Burress, lively ESPN analyst Herm Edwards spoke. Also speaking in a spontaneous joint appearance Wednesday morning was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith.
"What it shows is that they're working. When you see the two heads of the two organizations that are trying to negotiate a deal it shows they're trying to work something out. For them to come in and talk to us rookies-they were nice enough to come in and answer questions," said J.J. Watt, a defensive end for the Houston Texans and 11th overall pick.
Seven of the top-10 draft picks attended the event that ran from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. both Tuesday and Wednesday. Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons, Jake Locker of the Tennessee Titans and Tyron Smith of the Dallas Cowboys did not attend. At least 20 of the 32 first-rounders made an appearance at the symposium.
Most notable among attendees were Cam Newton and Terrell Pryor. Newton, the number-one overall pick, was more gregarious and open to media Wednesday during the community service event while Pryor remained somewhat of an enigma. He took off in a golf cart with former Arkansas and Patriots rookie quarterback Ryan Mallett, both dodging media requests.
The transition from college to the NFL is a challenging one, and this group of rookies face an even tougher time going into a season branded of uncertainty because of the lockout. Some have had to take on part-time jobs or live with their parents.
"[But] once things do get kicked into high gear you won't have so much free time on your hands," Little said.
As these huge twenty-somethings chased hundreds of smiling faces around the IMG campus in Bradenton, such leisure time may be missed in the Fall, after all.