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'Don't be an a-hole' and other critical tips for NFL rookies

By Tim Graham

AURORA, Ohio -- Kansas City Chiefs director of player personnel Chris Ballard stood in front of this year's AFC rookie class and delivered some cold truths.

"Nobody cares about your problems," Ballard said Sunday night at the start of the 2013 NFL Rookie Symposium. "They might have empathy for them. But at the end of the day, nobody cares about your problems. When you bring it to work, nobody cares.

"We have people that do care when something's happening off the field, absolutely. But when we're watching the tape, nobody cares about what's going on at home. I promise you the fans don't care. The media don't care. And ownership doesn't care. They care about results."

Welcome to the NFL, kids.

Many of the rookies looked bored throughout Ballard's speech. They've been drilled by their college coaches, agents, combine consultants, pro friends and myriad others about the NFL culture.

The rookies asked a single question when Ballard reached his Q&A portion. When he wondered if there were any more questions, there was mock clapping and giggles as if to tell Ballard it was time to wrap it up.

But teams should hope the audience -- the future of the NFL -- absorbed Ballard's presentation.

"Most of you," Ballard said at the outset, "will not be in this league three years from now. I promise you. If we had this little get-together again three years from now, I could probably cut the room, and three-quarters of you would not be in it.

"Your talent alone will not let you survive. You understand? It's got to be more than that."

Ballard stressed it won't be difficult for coaches, scouts and other players in the locker room to identify guys who don't belong.

"They'll spit you out," Ballard said.

Ballard is in his first season with the Chiefs. He spent the previous 12 years with the Chicago Bears, finishing as their director of pro scouting.

"I'll tell you exactly what we're looking for on a daily basis," Ballard said. "There's a glue. There's something that makes you stick.

"There's six different things, and if you fail in one of them, if there's a problem in one of these areas, the chances of you making it in our league for any sustained amount of time is going to diminish."

Here is Ballard's rundown of the six factors followed by a few of his comments.

1. Passion: "They're never satisfied. The passionate person is never good enough. You can't fake passion. You can't fake your love for something. ... You can't just show up and think it's just going to happen."

2. Work ethic: "It's more than being willing to work. It's the grind, every day. ... There's no such thing as gamers in the NFL. They've done it 10,000 times right before they get to Sunday."

3. Football IQ: "It's how you study the game. Are you an expert? How do you become an expert? You've got to watch the tape almost like a coach. Become an expert at your position. ... I promise you, somebody is watching the tape on you on Sundays, and they're figuring out how to beat you. They're figuring out every strength and weakness you have, and they're going to exploit it."

4. Competitive nature: "It permeates through the locker room when a guy is driven to win, is really competitive to win on a daily basis, every drill, everything we're evaluating."

5. Durability: "This is one you can't completely control. ... You have to take care of your temple. Your teammates and your coaches can't depend on you when you're constantly missing practice. How can I evaluate you? How can they trust that you're going to show up when it's 'Aw, my hamstring. Aw, my quad. Aw, I'm sick' ?"

6. Quality teammate: "You can't buy a locker room in this league. ... You cannot win the National Football League with a bad locker room. It's not happening. If you have a bunch of guys that don't have football character, it's going to bleed over. ... No a-holes. Don't be an a-hole. Be a good guy. How hard is that?"

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |