Pro game beginning to slow down for Chiefs rookies

Posted Jun 7, 2012

The initial shock of NFL speed is starting to fade for Kansas City’s rookie class

Midway through OTAs, something finally clicked for Tysyn Hartman. The game slowed and football became comfortable once again.

Hartman, an undrafted free agent safety from Kansas State, dropped back in coverage during Monday’s competitive team period and locked in on receiver Josh Bellamy. As the pass headed in Bellamy’s direction, Hartman broke off his backpedal and was on the football almost instantly.

When the play was blown dead, the ball ended up in Hartman’s hands. It was difficult to see if he notched an interception, but nevertheless, the play proved that Hartman has been steadily improving each time he takes the practice field.

“When I first got here, it was so fast,” said Hartman at Monday’s post-practice media session. “It was hard to think straight, but now a few weeks into it, it’s starting to slow down and go a little slower pre-snap and everything.”

First-year players like Hartman always differentiate the college game from the professional game by speed. NFL teams practice faster than most rookies were accustomed to in college—even during contact-free drills at OTAs. In the classroom, rookies are expected to learn just as fast as they’re expected to play.

But as the terminology their new playbooks sets in, Hartman and other Chiefs rookies are out to prove that practice has “slowed down” and that they’re beginning to adjust to the speed of the NFL.

“They threw us in the fire during rookie minicamp and fortunately, I came out of that alive,” said Hartman “Now things are sinking in.”

Having a full OTA session to learn is a luxury that last year’s rookies weren’t afforded. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi and other members of the Class of 2011 received their playbooks when they arrived to training camp once the NFL Lockout ended.

If the playbook is truly “sinking in” for rookies, they’ll have a better opportunity to make the team when they report to St. Joseph for training camp. Letting instincts take over is especially critical for undrafted players like Hartman who are trying to find their niche on the roster.

OTAs have given Hartman another advantage as well. Last year’s rookies had to wait until training camp to hear the advice of established veterans. But during this year’s OTAs, players like Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis haven’t been shy about giving Hartman and fellow rookie safety Terrance Parks advice from the sidelines as they rehab from their injuries.

“Eric (Berry) and Kendrick (Lewis) have done a great job helping us out and giving us any tips and pointers in between plays,” said Hartman. “When we come off to the sideline, they’re always there to help us out any way they can. I couldn’t ask for more from them.”

Third-round pick Donald Stephenson’s transition into the NFL has been eased by veteran advice as well. 

At Oklahoma, Stephenson played tackle for a spread-style offense that featured man blocking in the running game. 

Whenever he’s in the Chiefs Training Facility, Stephenson makes a point to pick the brains of veteran linemen like Branden Albert and Ryan Lilja as he tries to learn the zone blocking schemes of new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

Even as the veterans learn that new scheme, Stephenson said he knows he can learn a lot from them.

 “We have a lot of experienced guys (on the offensive line),” said Stephenson. “They’re all athletic, smart guys that can play. I soak up everything I can when I’m around them. In the film room, I’m listening and paying attention.”

The learning curve at OTAs has been steeper for some rookies than it has been for others. Devon Wylie was touted as the Chiefs next slot receiver when he was drafted in the fourth round of this year’s draft. However, Wylie’s snaps have been limited because of the emergence of Dexter McCluster as a slot receiver.  

Wylie also struggled with drops during his first two weeks of OTAs. He dropped a sure touchdown pass by Ricky Stanzi and an easy out pattern during seven-on-seven drills last Friday. So after practice, the rookie wideout stayed on the field with Quinn and Matt Cassel to run some extra patterns and discuss what he needed to change.

That extra work paid off during Monday’s OTAs when Wylie secured every ball thrown his way during offensive drills, and more importantly, he was able to seamlessly transition to special teams during kickoff drills as well.

Wylie said he’s beginning to practice without thinking about what his responsibilities are during the play. And Wylie knows that’s the first step to hearing his number called when it counts on Sundays. 

 “It’s all starting to click,” said Wylie after Monday’s practice. “You’re remembering terms, things are starting to become second nature all of a sudden. They have a big expectation (of me) to do multiple things because I did multiple things in I’m grateful—it’s an awesome position to be in and I just got to make sure I’m doing my best.”

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