- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2004

With our defense facing Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger last week and fellow rookie quarterback Eli Manning this week, I thought I would tell you about being a rookie.

As I look back on my rookie year, I sometimes wonder how I survived and made it here. Gone was the security blanket I had wrapped around me from college. No more training table, academic advisers, teachers’ aides, roommates, spring break trips or sorority parties. I had a job now.

It sounds odd describing life in the NFL as a job, but that is exactly what it is. A great job.

I have met those who truly believe what we do is exactly like turning on the PlayStation 2 and popping in Madden 2005 and going to work. Not exactly.

In college, you would roll out of bed and rush off to class, followed by a prepared lunch and then three or four hours of meetings and classes before practice. Oh wait, I forgot the training table meal, full of everything you can fit in your stomach. After that, well you could do whatever you wanted. If you didn’t have class until 11 the next morning and then practice, you just would sleep in.

That was then. Now you’re not on scholarship anymore. You’re a rookie — on your own, with a job and most likely in a city that might as well be foreign. Simple things like one-way streets can make for a long day.

In St. Louis in 2000, I struggled at the beginning just like every other rookie. Take dinner for example. You see, I couldn’t really cook — not that I’m great at it now — and there was no training table. I had two options: eat out every night or mac and cheese with a can of tuna mixed in.

Think about it. You come from a huge campus in a small college town where everyone knows your name to a massive pro city where your teammates have their own responsibilities and their own lives outside of football.

Did I mention the job itself? With meetings, practice, weightlifting, treatments and travel it’s a far heavier load than a 40-hour work week. There’s a lot for a rookie to handle.

Probably the hardest thing to adjust to is the game itself. For starters, instead of one or two All-Americans across the line of scrimmage, you have 11 in the NFL — all with the intent of running straight over you. That’s a little different than playing Iowa State.

Seven games in the NFL, plus the preseason games, is equal to an entire college season — and there are still nine games to play. As a rookie you realize how long and tough the NFL season is. You have to find a way to play and play well the rest of the way. There are a lot of veterans counting on you.

Probably the biggest adjustment is the speed of the game. There are no more weak links on the field. Players move at a speed I can only describe to people who have been at field level. It’s a sight to see. Now try seeing that as a rookie. It’s almost scary the first time you see it in person.

I was reminded that this league wasn’t for those faint of heart on the opening kickoff of my rookie year. They always say to keep your head on a swivel, and I was doing that until it felt like someone took my head clean off. I guess that was my introduction to the NFL.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great league with great people. But at times, especially early, it takes a little adjustment. No one’s given a silver spoon when he arrives for the first day of work.

Your job is earned, just like every first down.

Ask Matt

Q: Do defenses get worn down being on the field so often?

A: I don’t think a defense ever gets worn down, but the more plays an offense has, the better chance it has at moving the ball. That’s why defenses always shoot for three-and-outs.

Q: Do you think any of the Redskins’ defensive players are going to leave next year?

A: No. I believe too many of us want to bring a winner here to D.C. With Coach Gibbs and Coach Williams, the players know we have started something here and want to continue to work at it.

Staff writer David Elfin collaborates with Redskins safety Matt Bowen on this column. It appears every Wednesday. If you have any questions for Matt, e-mail them to [email protected]

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