The learning curve is steep for most rookies entering the NFL, but when a player comes to the Mile High City it adds a new dimension to being ready to play.
For defensive end DeMarcus Walker, the biggest struggle was getting used to playing football at 5,280 feet.
“Of course OTAs killed me with the altitude. I went back to Florida for a whole week and worked out with my trainer back there, but then I came up here and found a trainer who I trained with for two weeks. That was the best thing I ever did,” Walker explained.
Still, Walker felt the effects of altitude very early into training camp, being forced to leave the field during the team’s first practice with what coaches categorized as a “heat issue.”
“He’s doing fine. He had a heat issue,” head coach Vance Joseph said. He’s a Florida State guy and it’s beautiful today. He had a heat issue. Young guys come out first day of camp, he’s nervous and anxiety probably. Just revved up and he lost his fuse too quick. I’m not worried about him but it’s sad he couldn’t finish practice. It’s beautiful out. He’s a southern kid so you would think he could go, but he couldn’t.”
Beyond just getting into shape at a higher altitude, the rookie from Florida State mentioned earlier in the week that learning a new playbook and locking down his technique are points of focus as he acclimates to the NFL.
“Technique is the biggest thing. I learned the playbook, I picked it up pretty fast. But technique and shutting my mouth so I can listen to the vets and play my game. At first my head was spinning with the playbook but as soon as I figured it out it was just adjusting and adapting. That’s all I’ve been trying to do,” Walked told media members on Monday.
Walker attributed his early successes in OTAs to all of his previous coaches, citing the old-school style that has continued with defensive line coach Bill Kollar.
“I made it through [OTAs]. The grind and loving it, really just taking this serious. It’s a job. Coach Kollar, he gives us life lessons and I listen to those,” Walker said. “I’m kind of used to them because I had an old-school coach my whole football career, from middle school, high school, to even college. Coach Kollar and his old school ways, I’m used to it, I didn’t even have to adjust to it.”
All of this has led to Walker being hailed as one of the impact rookies on Denver’s roster. The defensive end isn’t listening to the hype, however.
“I didn’t even hear that but I just take it as a blessing. I kind of ignore it because I’m here to play football and I still have a lot to learn and a lot to adjust to,” Walker explained. “[I’m] just buying in to what Coach Kollar is teaching me, [Defensive Coordinator] Coach [Joe] Woods, and from [NT Domata] Peko, [DE] Adam [Gotsis] and [OLB] Von [Miller]. I’m just learning and pick up the game and just play football.”
The learning curve is ongoing for rookies in the NFL, and DeMarcus Walker is taking every new subject in stride.