CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 11: Kevin Zeitler #68 of the Cincinnati Bengals works out during a rookie minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium on May 11, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
At one point the NFL was seasonal. Coverage dwindled during the offseason, when NFL players took offseason jobs to compensate for the lack of income over the summer. It wasn't until the 1980s that the NFL draft began developing into what it is today; first three rounds are now primetime events. It wasn't until the 1990s that free agency resembled into we experienced just two months ago.
The game of football, specifically (but not entirely limited to) the NFL has turned into a year-round obsession. One that literally stops the sporting world when the NFL schedule is released. Or consumed with hours upon hours of endless coverage at the NFL Combine, watching young 20-year old prospects run straight, left, right, do a few bench presses and a standing jump. All that's missing at the Combine is an SAT-style classroom while prospects take the Wonderlic and Rich Eisen speaks with a soft voice before a golfer approaches the No. 18 tee.
The NFL is year-round. After watching the Super Bowl, fans focus on their own team's needs (earlier if they're eliminated or failed to make the postseason). Which players have expiring contracts? Who should be re-signed? Who should the Bengals use the franchise tag on? Which players will be free agents and how likely will the top free agent land with your favorite team? Free agency calms but leads to the NFL draft. The NFL draft calms and leads to rookie minicamps, which then leads to OTAs and before your know it, training camp.
So it's expected that there's more than enough interest in the Bengals rookie minicamp this weekend. But one cautionary tale is just how one should interpret this weekend.
As Ian Rapoport points out during a recent NFL.com blog posting, rookie minicamp isn't meant to settle anything -- in fact one head coach (below) points out that it's more of an orientation than a minicamp. Did Dre Kirkpatrick develop into an all-around cornerback by the end of the weekend? Did Marvin Jones lose his credibility with the coaching staff after struggling to haul in punts? Did anyone actually hear anything about Kevin Zeitler -- or any offensive linemen for that matter?
Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden liked what he saw out of rookie tight end Orson Charles. But here's the reality in his own words, when asked how the team will use Charles. "I've only seen (Charles) for three days and we're going to have to wait until training camp."
In fact rookies are more likely to get a lesson on how to do the more mundane things than actual expansive lessons on transitioning into the NFL. Using the St. Louis Rams rookie minicamp as an example:
Coach Jeff Fisher pointed this out when describing what he achieved following the first session.
"We had a meet and great, got physicals, got equipment," Fisher said. "We got a lot done. We had to teach them how to stretch, show them the facility and explain them what we wanted to get accomplished. I crossed out ‘mini-camp’ and I put ‘orientation’ (on the grease board) because mini-camp is running around full-speed in great shape. They’re not. But for a first day was good."
Our point is this. Aside from having our fandom satisfied for a weekend, there's little stock to put into a rookie minicamp from a fan's perspective. The rookies and coaches? Yes. That's the point. Fans? Don't open your Excel spreadsheet to devise depth charts just yet. It's still not the time.