RICHMOND — Pressure is not a foreign feeling for NFL rookies. From the moment they are drafted or sign as free agents, the pressure is on for them to prove that they belong on a roster. When your father is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, the pressure can only be worse.
For Jerry Rice Jr., an undrafted free agent out of UNLV and son of San Francisco 49ers great Jerry Rice, the pressure is nothing new and he is simply happy to be in Washington at his first NFL training camp.
“It’s definitely great,” Rice said. “First time out here, so I’m just trying to soak everything in from the vets and trying to my best with my capabilities to make sure I make this team.”
Rice had an inauspicious college career with UCLA before moving to UNLV to get his master’s degree. Like his father, he plays wide receiver, but he had only nine catches for 69 yards in three years at UCLA. On a Redskins team with one of the deepest receiving corps in the league, Rice knows his opportunities to impress at that position will be severely limited.
“It definitely has to do with special teams,” said Rice when asked how he plans to stand out to coaches. “I’ve got to make sure I’m versatile and show them that I’m willing to run down, chase somebody and tackle so that when I do get my chance at receiver I’m going to handle it, but until then I’ve got to show them that I’m able to do something else.”
When he graduated from UNLV, Rice worked out with both the Baltimore Ravens and his father’s former team in San Francisco. Neither of the Harbaugh brothers had an interest in signing Rice but he continued to pursue his dream to play professional football and was signed by the Redskins in late June.
Now that he is at training camp in Richmond he understands what it takes to play at the next level.
“You keep going to the next level and the talent level goes up,” said Rice. “Everybody out here is professional, everybody here is very talented, the best of their college teams and things like that. So you’ve definitely got to bring your A-game and it’s just the little things that separate yourself now. It’s how hard you work, the effort, just remembering all the plays and executing them that will take you the distance.
Though Rice is a long shot to make the final cut in August he has come to training camp with the same goal as every other player — to get a contract.
When asked about whether the players treat Rice any differently because of his father’s legacy, quarterback Robert Griffin III asserted that no special treatment has been offered to the rookie.
“We’re all players here,” said Griffin. “I try not to call him ‘Junior’ because I’m sure he’s been called that a lot. But Jerry, he does a good job. You can see traces of his dad in him in the coaching that he has already. But he’s just another one of the guys out there trying to fight to make this team just like we all are.”
Unfortunately for Rice, his camp hit a speed bump in Thursday morning’s practice when he went down with what coach Jay Gruden thinks could be a serious shoulder injury.
For fans and football aficionados in the D.C. area though, Rice’s presence at camp should be of interest in at least one facet. According to the receiver, his father may eventually choose to grace Washington’s training facility with his presence at some point during camp.
“Oh you know he’s going to pop up sometime, it’s just a matter of when,” said Rice. “And he’s going to try to be secretive, but it never works. I expect to see him sometime.”