BEREA: Whitney Mercilus rolled a football on the ground, slid beside it and cradled it with his arms as a group of children watched the demonstration Friday during the NFL Rookie Symposium PLAY 60 Youth Football Clinic at the Browns’ headquarters.
The suggested technique for recovering a fumble isn’t new to Mercilus, but reviewing the basics certainly can’t hurt. After all, Mercilus knows he must have the fundamentals down pat to make a smooth transition from a defensive end in the University of Illinois’ 4-3 defense to an outside linebacker in the Houston Texans’ 3-4 scheme.
Mercilus, who grew up in Akron and graduated from Garfield High School, didn’t need much time to realize it, either. Organized team activities and minicamps served as wake-up calls, and with training camp set to begin July 27, Mercilus believes he is catching on.
“Going through the OTAs, first, second and third days, they installed the whole playbook in those three days, basically,” said Mercilus, whom the Texans drafted 26th overall on April 26. “For me, it was like everything just coming at me like 100 mph. So it took me at least two weeks to adjust during the OTAs, and then the last week it wasn’t too bad. I think I left a pretty good impression with [the coaches]. They expect you to come out and perform and pick up everything right away.”
Texans coach Gary Kubiak recognizes Mercilus has his hands full.
“He’s doing good,” Kubiak told Houston reporters during minicamp in June. “He’s doing a lot, trying to learn special teams and handling his job [at] outside [linebacker]. So he has a lot on his plate right now. He has a lot of ability and should be able to help us a lot.”
The 6-foot-4, 254-pound Mercilus had only two sacks in his first two seasons at Illinois, but the skills that have impressed Kubiak became apparent last year. As a junior in 2011, Mercilus led the nation with 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles.
Still, Mercilus believes his raw talent won’t be enough to carry him to success early in his professional career. He says he’s focusing on staying disciplined and mastering the mental aspects of the game.
“You’ve got a lot of free time in the NFL,” Mercilus said. “It’s not like college, where after you’re done with football you’ve got classes. You’ve got so much free time, it’s like, ‘Man, what should I do?’ You can either play video games, sleep all day or study the playbook. I’d rather stick with the playbook, dive into it and make sure I know my assignments well and try to understand the whole defense.”
Mercilus is also adjusting to life off the field as an NFL player. The symposium, which wrapped up Saturday with the AFC rookies visiting the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, is designed to prepare players for some of the obstacles they might encounter.
As part of the symposium, Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones and former NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens addressed the AFC rookies Thursday during orientation at the Bertram Inn & Conference Center in Aurora.
“We had a lot of guest speakers, vets that came in, talking about their past with women, financial things, also,” Mercilus said.
“That’s a big thing having to deal with. I know there are a lot of great guys in the NFL, and one of the hardest things to do is to say no to people. They’re trying to teach us you’ve got to be a man about things. You’re not going to hurt their feelings. The thing is you’ve got to look out for yourself. It’s basically take care of yourself first, then you can take care of people next. So that’s another thing that I’ve been taking away from this.
“Also having to become a CEO of your own ship. You’ve got an agent. Some guys have a financial adviser and things like that. Coming from not having that at all to now having it … [it’s important to make sure] somebody’s not going to try to take advantage of you. They’re trying to tell us to take advantage of our NFL resources. The NFL, they’ve got so many connections for everything, background checks for financial advisers, agents. … So it’s just a huge resource that we need to start learning to take advantage of.”
In the money
Mercilus signed his four-year rookie contract on June 14. The deal is worth $7.634 million, including $6.55 million guaranteed and a signing bonus of $3.99 million, Scout.com reported.
“When I was signing it, I was like, ‘Finally, the wait is over,’ ” Mercilus said. “Now I’m in the upper echelon, the top 1 percent. It feels good because I never saw it coming. At this level, once you see it hit your bank account, it’s like, ‘Dang. Wow.’ ”
However, Mercilus has vowed to be smart with his money.
“I haven’t made a big purchase yet,” said Mercilus, adding that he’s renting a small town home in Houston. “I’m just having a structured plan about it, not going in there just wasting dollars and everything. I just want to do it right, so later down the line, when I’m retired at an early age, I’ve still got a lot of money in the bank.”
But Mercilus also will make sure his family is comfortable. He repeated that he left college early so he could relieve his Haitian immigrant parents, Wilner and Yvrose, of any financial burdens.
“Now they’ll live the life that they deserve to live for all the hard work they’ve put in, especially handling me — my crazy self — over the years,” Mercilus said. “It’s my debt to them basically to show them how much I love them and just to take good care of them.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.