Four rookies from Chattanooga are on NFL rosters as teams go through organized team activities and position workouts. In phone interviews with the Times Free Press during the past couple of days, the word "learning" was used over and over again.
Former McCallie and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga quarterback B.J. Coleman was the only local player drafted last month, in the seventh round by the Green Bay Packers. But wide receiver Tim Benford (Red Bank High School/Tennessee Tech), defensive back Jeremy Caldwell (Red Bank/Eastern Kentucky) and linebacker Rico Council (Howard/Tennessee State) all signed as undrafted free agents.
"It's not much harder than I expected," said Caldwell, who signed with the St. Louis Rams. "It's just a learning process. Everything's professional and it's all about how you do and how you perform. It's been a great experience so far."
While apologizing for not returning a phone call sooner, Coleman explained Saturday that he seldom has his phone with him these days. Packers players will get fined, more than $1,000 in some cases, he said, if their phone rings during a meeting.
"I don't even bring it to the complex," Coleman said. "I leave it in the car. That's money I don't ever want to give away for a telephone ringing."
Coleman is battling with Nick Hill, a former Arena Football League player, for the Packers' No. 3 quarterback spot. He said the rookie camp was a whirlwind of information as he tried to devour the Packers' playbook. Monday was the first three straight days of organized team activities.
"After rookie camp everything kind of slowed down a little bit and we kind of got into our [individual position workouts] and really got to get into the playbook," he said. "It's tough. It's a fun offense, but you've still got to study and pay close attention to detail. There's a lot to learn and a lot of stuff to process."
Benford is trying to earn a backup receiver spot with the Dallas Cowboys. He said the "grind" of workouts, studying and meetings can be tough, but it will be well worth it if he can get that legendary star on his helmet. The silver helmet won't have a star until he makes the team.
"You've got to earn that star," said Benford, the Ohio Valley Conference offensive player of the year last season. "I haven't earned that yet, but I'm up for the challenge. Nobody knows me and I've got to prove myself to get that star."
Council, the OVC defensive player of the year in 2011, is trying to make the Alanta Falcons' roster. He said the Falcons are trying him out at the wheel (weak side) position.
"I get to plug to the ball a lot and blitz a lot," Council said.
The Falcons have a new defense and new defensive coordinator in Mike Nolan, which means everyone is having to learn a new system. That works in Council's favor, as well as the other defensive rookies, because they're not way behind the veterans.
"You're almost on the same page when you come in, and now we've had some time to learn and understand the system," he said. "I feel good about how things have gone so far, and I wouldn't have come if I didn't think I could compete with these guys."
The Cowboys start OTAs today, the Rams have had multiple OTA sessions and the Falcons begin OTAs on May 29.