INDIANAPOLIS – As Chuck Pagano leads his third rookie class into action this weekend it will be a time of instruction and indoctrination as young players take formative steps with the Colts.
It is a crucible not as heavy on analysis as others, but something is learned every time coaches and players are on the field.
"You find out exactly where a kid is and what you have to do," said Pagano entering last year's process. "For us as coaches, it gives you an idea of their learning ability."
The third-year head coach will conduct three full practices and two walk-through sessions today through Sunday, practices that supplement what rookies have seen already in the past few days.
"Not everybody learns the same way," said Pagano. "Some people can see it on the grease board or video and can come out and just pick it up and don't need a walk-through.
"Some guys need to see it in the classroom. Some guys need the walk-through and take it to the practice field. Everybody learns differently, but we'll get a good barometer on it."
With the draft moved into May this year, rookies have observed a week's worth of the off-season program involving the veterans.
That means to some degree – veteran conditioning practices do not pit offense against defense, something the rookie camp will do without live contact – the newcomers have seen the speed of the game.
Those days of observation hopefully cut an edge off what is a new environment.
"There's a lot of excitement to it because it's your first exposure to things at this level," said Khaled Holmes of last year's rookie camp. "It's different from OTAs and veteran mini-camp. You just have to come out, be smart and give your best effort. You want to soak up as much as you can.
"They're analyzing all the time, especially with the numbers a team brings in. Everyone's being analyzed and scrutinized, and that doesn't change at rookie mini-camp. At the same time, (coaches) understand how much of a whirlwind it is for rookies. They're trying to grasp everything."
About 30 rookies under contact will be joined by a handful of players trying out over the weekend.
Jack Doyle last year went through this process as an undrafted free agent with Tennessee. He did not have that week of practice buffer just as Holmes did not have it here.
"It was different last year because the draft was earlier and rookie camp was the first thing I did. I didn't get a chance to be around the team before the mini-camp," said Doyle. "I remember it being a good time to learn as much as you can."
To Doyle, rookie camp was a chance to learn in a smaller environment.
"You get one-on-one time with the coaches, and that's something they should appreciate and take advantage of," said Doyle. "Just be a sponge and try to ask as many questions as you can. When you're in the room with the older guys, you don't get asked as many questions. They bypass you and they're watching you on film.
"You should critique yourself. It's a great opportunity to get better."
Vick Ballard remembers nerves being a prevalent part of the equation.
"I thought I learned a lot. I learned a couple of things, but I didn't learn nearly as many things as I needed to in order to play," said Ballard. "I think the enormity of this is big. You're coming to a new state, new system, new people, new faces, everything.
"Naturally, you're going to be nervous. It's your first reaction. I was nervous, and I think it kind of affected my learning a little bit. Once I got my nerves under control and relaxed a little bit, I was good."
Jerrell Freeman remembers having a long list of assignments thrust his way as an undrafted rookie with Tennessee in 2008. His sensation was that "I was swimming upstream." He knew he was new but that coaches were watching.
"They understand you're just coming in but at the same time, you're out there."
The key is to thrive under new pressures in a new environment and in front of new judges.
"They're getting the nuances of the defense. It's a nice foundation, much better than throwing them out there," said Freeman, who provides a checklist for rookies.
"They should do everything they can to get better. You're not going to be perfect, just get better. They should understand what their flaws are and just get the better for the next time they're in there. Just have fun is the last thing. This is your dream. This is where you're at, have fun. That would be my checklist."