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The Grind For "Year One" Players

Posted May 22, 2013

Game inexperienced but not rookies, some Cards straddle two ways of NFL life

Linebacker Colin Parker, in his second season, takes part in a play on the second field during this week's OTAs.

Ricky Lumpkin had grand plans for last Thursday night.

The NBA Playoffs were on TV and Lumpkin was ready to hunker down on the couch with the remote in hand and enjoy a few hours of entertainment. But he fell asleep.

That’s what 11 straight days of football will do to a man.

For seven Cardinals, two weeks in the middle of May were an early preview of training camp. They were all considered first years, a label by the NFL given to players who haven’t accrued a full season, making them eligible to participate in the Cardinals’ rookie minicamp. That meant Lumpkin, Colin Parker, Kerry Taylor, Will Batson, Tim Fugger, Robert Gill, Alex Gottlieb and Everrette Thompson didn’t have a day off for close to two weeks.

After spending May 6, a Monday, on the golf course for a Cardinals Charities’ event, they reported alongside the veterans for Phase Two on-field workouts the next morning. For the next three days they lifted weights and did cardio exercises, before joining the Cardinals’ rookie class that Friday for a weekend-long minicamp. They were then were back lifting weights the following Monday before a mandatory three-day minicamp that included the vets and the rookies.  

By dusk last Thursday, they were beat. Eleven Days in a row.

“Lots of cold tub, lots of hot tub, stretching, massages, pretty much anything I could get in, I was trying and it helped,” Parker said. “But it kinda got to that point where you kinda felt like it was camp. You can do stuff but you’re going to feel sore and tired regardless. I was doing whatever I could. I’m sure it helped but I was feeling it definitely.”

Lumpkin walked into the locker room on May 10 and watched the veterans enjoyed a low-key day, almost relaxing compared to the practices he was about to participate in. The pain acted as a constant reminder of where they wanted to be, which was not on the field that weekend. But the only way to reach that would be through playing. The more games he plays in, the more time he accrues.

Of the group, only Lumpkin played in a game last season. Taylor dressed in the season finale at San Francisco but did not play. The rest are vying for playing time, against each other, the veterans and now the rookies, and the rookie minicamp was another opportunity for them to build their résumé in front of the coaching staff.

“I got my first game (last year), first tackle, first game ball, the whole works,” said Lumpkin, a nose tackle who spent the rookie minicamp learning to play defensive end. “And just having that taste, I was like, ‘Man I don’t want to do this again.’ After doing a rookie minicamp two years in a row (my sense of urgency) is even higher. I want to be like the veterans.”

The mental preparation didn’t compare to the physical exhaustion they went through. Taylor lucked out. He was told the day before rookie minicamp began that he was eligible to participate, but after two days the coaching staff told him he didn’t need to practice Sunday.

Being out there with the rookies took the first years down memory lane but it also showed them how far they’ve come.

“I felt old out there, actually, just knowing everything and seeing how their heads are spinning because everything is moving so fast to them,” Taylor said. “I just tried to help with my experience and knowing how practice goes, trying to keep the guys calm. There’s a lot of stuff going through their head.”

They are no longer the rookies, having been replaced a new group of wide-eyed young men, but what the first years went through was an initiation of sorts.

For men whose jobs as football players are dictated by routine, not having a day off for 11 straight days took its toll. But there wasn’t time to sulk or pout about it, they just had to put their head down and grind it out, Parker said.

It didn’t matter how tired they were.

After two weeks of hitting the pillow by 9 p.m. – at the latest – Lumpkin had a plan for the weekend. He wanted to stay up with his wife – he was hoping until at least midnight – watch TV, go to the movies and relax. It was the weekend. He wanted to enjoy it.

But all the planning in the world couldn’t prevent the inevitable.

Lumpkin was asleep by 10:30.  

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