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Transition Program Integrates Cardinals Rookies

Posted Jun 22, 2016

Three-day exercise gives first-year players the resources to succeed in the NFL

Senior Director of Player Development Anthony Edwards speaks to the Cardinals' first-year players during the Rookie Transition Program on Tuesday.

Cornerback Harlan Miller stepped over a row of chairs in the Cardinals’ auditorium on Tuesday, moved to the aisle and wrapped his arms around guest speaker Jamie Leon-Guerrero.

The Cardinals rookies have been fed football-specific information at a high rate since joining the team, but as they learned this week in the three-day Rookie Transition Program, there’s an entire life off the field to master as well.

Leon-Guerrero was one of several speakers detailing the potential pitfalls that face the group as professional football players. She shared the ramifications of driving while impaired, explaining to the rookies the pain she’s felt since losing her partner, Kris Lee Chambers, two years ago when Chambers was killed by a driver high on synthetic marijuana.

Cardinals Senior Director of Player Development Anthony Edwards set up a plethora of sessions from Monday through Wednesday to educate the rookies on issues like player safety, impaired driving, domestic violence, finances and more.

“I let them know when I’m putting the program in front of them, I’m not just throwing something together,” Edwards said. “There’s a purpose behind it, and I’m looking out for their best interest. I want to give them as much information as I can, so they can be a true professional in every aspect, as a player and as a man.”

In past years the draft picks would fly out of state for a Rookie Symposium, but the NFL decided to have teams give the lessons themselves this year. Edwards likes this format because the undrafted players didn’t previously hear the same message.

“At the Rookie Symposium, only the draft picks would get the syllabus,” Edwards said. “Every now and then I would try to bring back one or two just to make copies for undrafted guys. Now, everyone’s getting the syllabus, and they’re all getting the same teaching at the same time, which is key.”

Tuesday’s three-hour meeting began with domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse awareness, followed by a session about mental health.

When mental health speaker Marlene Shiple asked for volunteers for an activity, more than the required four hands shot up (Miller beat cornerback Brandon Williams in rock-paper-scissors for the coveted final spot). The participation was a welcome sight for Edwards, who has had groups in the past that weren’t as involved.

“I was told by our speakers today that they loved how engaged the players were,” Edwards said. “You didn’t see guys sleeping, nodding off. They were really engaged, and that’s a good thing. I’ve had classes where they are nodding off. And just imagine this: they left workouts and came straight into me, and yet were alert. That’s key.”

The impaired driving session followed. Leon-Guerrero recounted the day of Chambers’ death in a stirring 20-minute speech, explaining the loss she suffered was so profound that the subsequent sentence of nine years in prison for the driver offered no relief.

“I’m pretty much just counting the nine years until I get the call from the jail that he’s getting out,” Leon-Guerrero told the players. “It’s still hard for me to comprehend to this day, because in nine years he gets to go back out and have a life again and pick up the pieces, but she gets to stay in the urn over my mantle every day. He gets to see the sun rise and the sun set and do all the happy things that she’ll never get to do again.”

As Leon-Guerrero concluded her remarks, the players gave her a standing ovation and Miller rushed over to give her a hug. He said listening to Leon-Guerrero was different than reading DUI statistics -- a tangible consequence he hopes will deter the players if they are tempted to drink and drive.

“It really hurt to see her hurt,” Miller said. “It takes a toll on you. You look at your life differently, the things you do that might take people’s lives, and you can learn from that.”

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