Shortly after the draft, typically the following weekend, the team gathers its newcomers and some younger players for a three-day camp that does not include the established veterans.
This is done as an on-field and off-field learning/orientation session to help the newcomers learn the organizational culture, meet the coaches and staff, attend meetings and participate in practices that are geared to acclimate them for the challenge of competition ahead.
Defensive back Kevin Thomas was the club's third-round pick in 2010, the 94th player taken overall in the selection process. A weekend after the satisfaction of being selected by the Colts, he was in Indianapolis to begin learning his new career.
Thomas was on the field with the rest of his new teammates and the final practice was nearing an end when he made a cut in pass coverage. Thomas suffered a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament and what resulted in an instant ended a year of participation.
"I was doing well. They (coaches) were on me," said Thomas. "When the coaches are coaching you tough, that means they like you. We were doing one-on-ones the last day of rookie camp. I probably had 35 more minutes to survive and I would have been alright. I knew it was serious. I never felt that in my leg before. Me being a skinny corner, I'm always just jumping around and when my knee gives and I'm jumping, it's not normal."
Repairing the knee was done at the appropriate time and the rehabilitation began. Thomas was in the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center and around his teammates, but he rarely was on the field when they were.
The Southern California product, however, was introspective about what had happened, and he took the opportunity to observe how his teammates prepared themselves for the rigors of the sport. He followed the same steps.
"It actually just humbled me as far as how I should prepare and live my life according to the NFL," he said. "You never have a clue. I was just lucky to be blessed to be a good football player (prior to the NFL), pretty much just skating my way through competition and always excelled. When I got here the practices were tough, my body broke down and the next thing I know, I tore my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). It humbled me and let me know exactly how my preparations should go leading into the season and throughout practice.
"I saw how it operated, and I saw pretty much how our star players' bodies are built. I could check them out to see what muscles they focused on. I just tried to incorporate that in my own body. (It was) the quads, the calves, the lower body, the back muscles, neck muscles."
Head Coach Jim Caldwell pays close attention to details. He is attuned to his players, and the way Thomas was watching things caught Caldwell's eye.
"I think it's very important just in terms of the overall culture," said Caldwell. "I think that's one of the things, it's not always what you do, but how you do them (which) is extremely important. He (Thomas) seems to have caught on pretty well. I know he watched and listened. He's a pretty observant guy, and I think it has helped him."
Thomas opened 17 of 39 career games at USC, including 13 starts during his senior when he had 57 tackles and 11 passes defensed while earning All-Pac 10 second-team honors. He was accustomed to playing at a high-profile school against top collegiate talent. Now, he is trying to take his game to the next level.
Thomas made his first NFL appearance last Saturday when the team played at St. Louis. He described his emotions and how he felt physically during his on-field pro debut.
"I wasn't hesitant. I wasn't nervous at all," said Thomas. "I was excited to play. It was fun. I don't feel like I lost a step, I felt great. I felt like I was in control. I made mistakes for me to fix. I feel like my game is coming together and I have things to work on. I feel like I'm going to progress."
Veteran linebacker and team captain Gary Brackett was among those who noticed Thomas' play against the Rams.
"I think guys fought well. A couple guys had a good game, so I think we just have to continue to grow. I think K.T. (Kevin Thomas) stepped up. Thomas had a good game," said Brackett.
Caldwell has watched Thomas in practice and likes what he sees from the young player.
"The first day he was out there we noticed he was moving extremely well," said Caldwell. "He's got speed and he's athletic, a rangy guy, and we're just going week to week to see how he progresses, and he seems to be coming along pretty well. He played an extensive amount in the last game, and he'll play a pretty good amount this game as well. We just want to see how he develops, but he certainly has skills."
Thomas will keep observing and learning on and off the field. A bright and enthusiastic person, he knows there are positions to be won in the secondary. The departures of Bob Sanders and Kelvin Hayden possibly are signaling a time of change and opportunity for youth. Thomas knows any chance he has will be grounded in hard work.
"There's a spot on the depth chart but at the same time, there's competition," he said. "Every person on this team wants to make the roster. I don't look at it as a spot is just going to be given to me. I'm just trying to fit into that role and be that kind of player that can be a starter."