Mike Tannenbaum with Dave Szott
While the Jets' minicamp reached its conclusion last Thursday, the team's 2009 rookie class will be required to remain in town until July 3. These new professionals may have finished their college obligations, but "Szott School" is now in session at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.
Dave Szott, the former Jets guard who serves as the team's director of player development, has one of the most critical jobs in the building. Once the Jets add to their roster in April with draft selections and undrafted free agent signings, Szott introduces himself to the new faces as the pack leader and then spends the next few months training his pups for life in the wild.
"This group been outstanding," Szott told newyorkjets.com in a recent interview outside the Jets' locker room. "They're a great group of guys, which is reflective of the process that our personnel department and coaching staff go through evaluating, with character being a major component of the process."
But the Jets want to take a great group and make them even better and more prepared for football and life as professional athletes.
"We put them through a lot more education than probably other clubs do and I keep them until 5:30 or so every day, but they roll with it, they take it — the good with the bad," Szott said. "The good is I'm bringing some great speakers in and they're getting exposed to a great educational process."
The schedule is demanding and nobody gets pampered. During the recent full-squad minicamp, for example, rookies had to be in the building by 7 a.m. for breakfast and the bell rang for first class at 7:30. At that point, the rooks met with their position coaches for 90 minutes without veterans in the meeting room because the youngsters are behind.
Then from 9 a.m.–1 p.m., football meetings were followed by the vets and rookies working out on the field. After showering, meeting with the media and eating, Szott began teaching somewhere from 2–2:30 p.m.
"Quicken-ing" Up the Rookies
Recently Szott brought in Bill Brigham, overseer of the NFL's substance abuse system, to talk about the program and the adverse effects of alcohol and other drugs such as marijuana. Former Jet Dennis O'Sullivan also came in this past week to discuss alcohol and athletic performance.
There are many off-the-field perils that can quickly derail an NFL career, and financial mismanagement is near the top of the list. If a rookie is fortunate enough to make the opening-day roster, it's quite possible he'll collect a first-ever paycheck.
"I have them formulating a budget, using Quicken software, based on rookie minimum salary. You break down your housing and your costs and show me what your budget is," Szott said. "They have to learn that they're going to get paid more than they've ever been paid in their life, obviously, but it's going to be from September through Dec. 31 and then some playoff checks, we hope. Then they're going to go six months, seven months without any income. I started that program last year."
Housing is another issue for first-year players. This diverse group comes from all over the United States and there aren't many guys too familiar with Florham Park and northern New Jersey.
"We went on a housing tour last week to show them some apartments. Going back to the budget, they're going to have to know how much housing costs," Szott said. "They get a feel for the area there. I try to give them a snapshot, so they're as prepared as possible when a lot of these guys don't know if they're making the team and that by Sept. 8 when the final roster is set, they know where they want to live and have a gameplan in place to try to make that transition as smooth as possible and as successful as possible."
Schedule for a "Football Guy"
After "Szott School" wraps up, the rookies visit the weightroom and strength coach Sal Alosi puts them through their paces. They don't usually leave the facility until 6 p.m., so that's an 11-hour day. Quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has displayed an enthusiasm you want to see in a young franchise passer, is often goes into hour 12 and beyond.
"I told our general manager [Mike Tannenbaum] that two days last week I was here until 7, 7:30, and I'm walking out the door and he's walking out right behind me — probably the only player left in the building," Szott said. "I know the one day [offensive coordinator] Brian Schottenheimer wasn't here with him, so he was by himself studying, getting the new system down.
"That's a great reflection to the two great practices he had last week, so he's a football guy. He cares about this first and foremost and you see that he loves it. He knows that this is what he has to take care of first and all those other things are just sprinkles on top of it, and there's a time or place for that."
The '09 class has made its presence in the community as well, participating in the Jets' Jerseys Off Your Backs campaign, coaching at the Generation Jets Clinic and walking at both lupus events. After the clinic, Szott took his group out for an outdoor bonding session.
"We had a big barbeque at a farm," he said. "Guys were fishing, we had a long-drive contest and a putting contest. We had a number of events and they had a blast. We have a group who's from all over — some who probably aren't all that outdoorsy — and most of them didn't start leaving until it got dark out. Some of them wanted to camp out there. That was great to see them bond."
Szott also is working on taking the rookies to a Mets game at Citi Field. Even at "Szott School," the kids occasionally go on an entertaining fieldtrip.