A lot of people ask me the question, “why is it so hard for young DBs to make it in the NFL?”
Well, trust me, I was a young DB that didn’t quite make it early in the NFL. In my rookie year, 1997, I only played in one game, and it was against the Arizona Cardinals. Rob Moore embarrassed me so bad, I didn’t dress for another game that season.
Most Challenging Aspects
Of course, I went on and played another 15 years and had a great career. But to me, the biggest difficulty of transitioning from college football to the NFL is because it’s the second most difficult position to play in the NFL.
Quarterback is number one, but defensive back is by far the hardest position to adapt to the NFL. Number one: the best athletes on the team are usually the wide receivers that you have to cover. The guys that you’re trying to defend passes from are usually the highest-paid guys on every football team. So, there is that going against you.
But really, the struggle—and what most young guys struggle with—is adjusting to the speed at which things are coming to you, not the speed of the game.
People like to simplify it and say, “it’s the speed of the game.” The reality of it is: It’s the speed at which receivers are running routes. It’s the speed at which offenses are trying to attack you. A lot of young DBs just don’t understand how offenses are trying to get at them. It takes a while. It takes reps, and it takes a lot of discipline. It takes real effort to perfect your craft.
Whether it’s a technique at the line of scrimmage or it’s a technique in coverage, you have to marry that with the knowledge of the game, understanding that it takes anticipation and preparedness for you to succeed in this league.
My “Ah-ha” Moment
I had an “ah-ha” moment, and it was towards the end of my rookie year. It was in practice just figuring out that I can’t be a better athlete than everybody that I’m trying to cover. In college it was very easy to be the best athlete on the field. You’re usually more athletic than most of the talent you’re playing against. Every now and then, you’ll run up against a really good offensive football team with really good offensive players, but for the majority of it, you are better than most.
It was towards the end of my rookie year that I realized you’re not going to be able to “out-athlete” the guys that you’re covering anymore. It’s going to have to be a technique thing. It can’t just be: lineup, backpedal however you want, react and see if you can make a play.
It became more about perfecting my techniques and then anticipating what was coming to me. I remember in practice; I made an interception. I can’t remember who the quarterback was, but I made an interception, and it was like the accumulation of preparing and then knowing the route and then jumping it.
I was like, “oh, OK, maybe it’s not as hard as I was trying to make it.”