LOS ANGELES -- Today in sunny Southern California, the NFL Players association will host their second annual Collegiate Bowl at the Home Depot Center in Carson, set for 6PM ET and airing live on ESPN2.
While the event is still building it's brand, the league is paying attention. Many NFL teams had scouts represented and watching practices this week while draft luminaries like ESPN's Todd McShay were in attendance as well. To help the players get some critical tips on their technique, the NFLPA brought in a host of former players like Priest Holmes, Kevin Mawae and Isaac Bruce among many others to act as assistant coaches.
"It's been a real blessing," said Ohio State Safety Orhian Johnson. "To get to learn from a player like Darrelle Greene ... has been amazing."
Not to mention the talent evaluators overseeing the whole process. Former Colts GM and Woody's Johnson's confidante on the GM search Bill Polian was on hand to oversee the talent evaluation process that the NFLPA is using.
As far as the actual game, former Jets coach Herman Edwards (American team) will be pitted against the man who Dick Vermeil (National team) gave him his first shot in the NFL but whom he knew since he was 17. While both Vermeil and Edwards expressed their enjoyment at being back around football for a few days, both know that this is more about life lessons for the young men who will be getting opportunities in the NFL in just a matter of months.
"The NFL Players Association wants this to be more than just a game, they want it to be a NFL educational experience,” Vermeil told reporters during a press conference on Friday, flanked by his players. “This will be these players’ first introduction to the National Football League without the pressure of making a team in training camp. By the time they are drafted and go to training camp they will have an understanding of what’s expected of them, having worked with NFL coaches and players for a week. There won’t be anything like this.”
Edwards agreed with his former coach in more matter of fact terms. "In the NFL, players don't graduate ... in pro football ... you come out of college and there’s a 30-year-old man standing there saying, ‘You’re trying to take my job.’"
It's something that the players all seemed to be aware of now, but they also were just appreciative to be part of this process and to get a chance to extend their life's long pursuit. While the real world might await, many of them talked about the decision points they'd made in recent months.
"It was something that I had to talk about with my family," said Miami RB Mike James. "I had to decide about who to do next, to go get a job or work as hard as I could to live my dream."
Players who are in this game know that they will have to sacrifice to make it in the NFL and they are willing to do what it takes. Vermeil said one of his linebackers was asked about playing fullback in the NFL. Another prospect Alabama State QB Greg Jenkins played some receiver in practice this week ... and actually looked pretty good at it. Could he be the next Brad Smith? As his coaches are telling him, he's going to have to work very hard whatever he does to get his shot in the NFL.
For some guys, getting their shot might be harder or easier just based on their names. The event has drawn promising prospects with familiar names -- Wisconsin cornerback Marcus Cromartie (brother of Jets corner Antonio and cousin to Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie), Vandy QB Jordan Rodgers (brother to Aaron) and Utah's David Kruger (brother to Paul Kruger of the Ravens) as well as some up and comers like Miami RB Mike James, Virginia Tech LB Bruce Taylor and Texas WR Marquise Goodwin.
But for players with last names that we might know, it's clear that they are not looking to trade on them. When American team Head Coach Herman Edwards joked Jordan Rodgers during the press conference about whether he's ever asked by reporters about being Aaron's little brother, Rodgers joked back that he just tells reporters that he "plays to win the game."
Edwards quickly took the learning opportunity to coach up Rodgers some more by telling him to add the trademark 'hello?!' at the beginning.