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Rookie symposium scrapped as NFL lockout drags on

Bears safety Chris Harris says rookies will be hurt most if minicamps OTAs training camp are affected by lockout. He

Bears safety Chris Harris says rookies will be hurt the most if minicamps, OTAs and training camp are affected by the lockout. He says the younger guys need that structure. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 26, 2011 12:39AM

Next month’s NFL rookie symposium has been canceled, making it the first event on the NFL’s 2011 calendar to be wiped out because of the lockout and the latest
example of how rookies and fringe players have much to lose in the ongoing labor dispute.

The symposium, scheduled for June 26 at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, is designed to help rookies make the transition to the NFL. Drafted players are
advised by experts and current and former players on how to conduct themselves on and off the field, how to handle their finances and a variety of other subjects.

“The symposium is a large, complex event involving many professionals and others,” league spokesman Greg Aiello said. “In fairness, we could not continue to keep their commitment on hold.”

The absence of organized team activities, minicamps and voluntary conditioning programs during the lockout won’t affect established veterans under contract as much as drafted rookies, rookie free agents and players yet to prove themselves in the league who are hoping to impress coaches during the offseason.

“There’s no question guys that are later-round draft picks, [players who] are trying out for a team or players who weren’t drafted, the OTAs, the offseason programs and training camp are where a team can understand your work ethic, your energy and what you bring to the table,” Chicago-based agent Mark Bartelstein said. “Those are critical elements in making an impression. To lose that opportunity can be devastating to their careers.”

The NFL’s appeal of an injunction lifting the lockout will be heard June 3 by the U.S. District Court of Appeals in St. Louis. Players and owners will have little urgency to jump-start negotiations until a decision is reached. That could be in late July, creating an abbreviated preseason that would make matters worse for players hoping to earn a roster spot.

With another crop of rookies and rookie free agents coming out next year, the window of opportunity could close quickly for players hoping to establish themselves before the 2011 season. Not only will they be less prepared when training camp begins, but if the lockout drags into the preseason, they will have less time to prove they’re NFL-ready.

“Really, OTAs are for the younger guys, to get them acclimated,” Bears safety Chris Harris said. ‘‘That’s what minicamp is for. They get introduced to the playbook. During OTAs, they get introduced to the playbook a second time, and in training camp, they get introduced to it a third time.

‘‘The younger guys, they need that structure.’’

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