This is the second in a series of stories that will run throughout the year on the Jaguars Player Development Program and the 2006 Jaguars rookie class.
During a recent Jaguars Rookie Club meeting at Alltel Stadium, Manager of Player Relations and Youth Football Bahati Van Pelt served as moderator of a discussion with several second-year players and this year's rookie class.
Chad Owens, Alvin Pearman, Gerald Sensabaugh, Pat Thomas and Scott Starks joined Van Pelt at the head table. As part of the club's player development program, all 17 members of the rookie class have been participating in the Jaguars Rookie Club. The club was created by head coach Jack Del Rio when he took over the helm in 2003. Executive Director of Football Operations Skip Richardson and Van Pelt oversee the program on a daily basis.
Numerous topics were discussed during the hour-long meeting, but the focus immediately turned to the second-year players in attendance when Van Pelt asked them to tell the rookies what to expect at the upcoming training camp.
Second-year safety Gerald Sensabaugh raised his hand and smiled, knowing he had the perfect words to describe the camp which begins on Friday, July 28.
"It's a battle," Sensabaugh said. "These are grown men who have kids and families to feed. You are trying to take someone's job."
Sensabaugh, a fifth round pick from North Carolina, made the 53-man roster as a rookie by excelling on special teams in the preseason. He worked his way into a starting role at strong safety for the final three games of the season including the playoff game at New England.
Sensabaugh said following the meeting that the key for rookies is to understand everything goes up a notch during training camp.
"It gets real intense during training camp," Sensabaugh said. "Everyone during OTA's is pretty much learning the system. Everybody is just getting a feel for it. When training camp comes around, you better be at a high peak because everyone is out there battling for a spot on that 53-man roster. It gets intense and you have to make an impression. I told them they are not going to beat you up like college. You won't be out there tackling the whole time."
There are ample opportunities for the players to impress the coaches with a full month of training camp in addition to four preseason games. The rookies will have the chance to show they belong in the NFL.
"Sometimes you might get depressed, not knowing if you are going to make the team or not," Sensabaugh said. "The only thing you can do is go out there and make plays. You have the opportunity to also make the practice squad. You have to make sure you have an impact on special teams."
Alvin Pearman made the 53-man roster as a rookie due to his ability to play multiple positions. He put up impressive numbers in the preseason as a running back, but also made an impression as a return specialist. He set the club record in 2005 with 49 punt returns and ranked third all-time in club history with 986 all-purpose yards as a rookie.
"Special teams is the key," Pearman said. "You just want to get on the field. I did all of those things during training camp. There are only 11 guys on each side of the ball."
Sensabaugh is relieved his rookie season is over and he heads into his second training camp with a better understanding of what to expect.
"I know what to expect now," Sensabaugh said. "When you are a rookie, some of these guys have the advantage over you because they have been in the system. It's hard to take a man's spot."
Starks told the rookies there will be times a veteran will have them carry their helmet into the lockerroom or maybe give them a hard time in the lockerroom.
"You have to have thick skin off the field," Starks said. "It's all done in love. If they don't talk to you, they probably don't like you."
Rookie Dee Webb, a seventh round pick from Florida, appreciates the advice.
"All I know about training camp is what those guys have shared with me," Webb said. "It's been very helpful as a rookie to hear it from them."
Before the meeting commenced, the second-year players stressed the importance of bonding as a class. Pearman said it's different from college because so many players have families in the NFL. This year's class has taken their advice.
"We always do stuff together at least once a day," Webb said. "We all live in the same hotel. That is what they told us during the meetings. Your brothers are really the ones you came in with. They said you have to grow a bond with them before you grow a bond with anyone else. That is what we have been doing."
Webb, a graduate of Ed White High School in Jacksonville, credits the Jaguars Rookie Club for getting him prepared for life as a rookie, but also for allowing him an opportunity to grow as a person.
"I have learned a lot," Webb said. "We have had the opportunity to get out as a group and see new things. I had never seen the Mayport Naval Base and I have lived here my whole life."