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Draft picks and dreamers gather for NFL mini-camps

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NFL teams are in the process of getting their first look at their draft choices, undrafted free agents, and others just looking for a chance. Rookie mini-camps are underway around the league, representing the very first taste of life in the NFL for a few, and the only taste for most.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins held their mini-camps last weekend. On Friday the Jacksonville Jaguars begin theirs.

While many, but not all, of the teams’ draft picks are under contract, they were, or will be, in attendance. Tampa Bay’s top pick, Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, participated as did the Dolphins’ top choice, Missouri defensive end Charles Harris.

Jacksonville will have all of their draft picks, none of which are signed, in camp this weekend as well. This includes running back Leonard Fournette of LSU, the top pick, and second rounder Cam Robinson, the Alabama offensive lineman.

Along with looking at those drafted and those undrafted players who signed free agent contracts, these camps also serve as tryouts. Since the draft, the Bucs have signed, among others, long snapper Dax Dellenbach and wide receiver Jesus “Bobo” Wilson from Florida State.

Trying out for the team without contracts are familiar names such as wide receiver Riley Cooper and defensive tackle Darious Cummings from Florida. Florida State punter Cason Beatty also got a look.

Not in attendance due to injury was linebacker Kendell Beckwith, the third-round pick out of LSU, and running back Jeremy McNichols, a fifth-round selection from Boise State. The presence of both at the start of training camp, which begins in late July, is uncertain.

This weekend, Florida A&M offensive lineman TJ Jones, Central Florida quarterback Justin Holman, and Bethune-Cookman offensive lineman Trevin Huff are among those trying out for an invite to Jaguars’ training camp. While the odds are long to make the team, there is still that hope of fulfilling a dream.

Only a tiny fraction of those attending the camps, especially those trying out, ever make it to full training camp, let alone the final roster. For example, the only tryout participant to sign a contract following Bucs’ camp is defensive end Evan Panfil from Purdue. That put the team at their off-season roster limit of 90.

Panfil, and others like him in mini-camps around the country, have a long way to go before making the 53-man roster. At least they have the chance to dream and show what NFL scouts might have missed.

If they don’t make it, hopefully they get to keep the jersey they wore for 3 days.

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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