- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. -- The sun is just rising on a hot and increasingly humid day and New York Giants offensive linemen David Diehl and Shaun O'Hara are in an auditorium, attentively jotting down notes and asking and answering questions.
While many of their teammates are scattered around the country sleeping in and enjoying vacation, Diehl and O'Hara spent three days last week at the NFL Films headquarters in southern New Jersey preparing for life after football. They were two out of a group of 25 current and former NFL players selected to participate in the fourth annual NFL Broadcast Boot Camp. All of the players had to submit a written essay, provide an audio or video tape of their past media work and a résumé.
Previous boot camps have helped the likes of Tim Hasselbeck (ESPN) and Dhani Jones (Travel Channel) land national television gigs. The participants are split into four groups before they go through a gauntlet of intense media training sessions that start at sunrise and end after the sunset.
Last Tuesday, the groups started with a meeting at 8 a.m. and then shuffled back and forth between conference rooms, offices and studios spread throughout the NFL Films complex to meet with various top television and radio professionals and executives. The campers barely had any time for a bathroom break between classes in a jam-packed schedule that might as well had been set up by Tom Coughlin.
"But we don't have to be five minutes early," Diehl cracked of Coughlin's famous rule.
ESPN New York shadowed Diehl and his Group B of broadcast campers which included Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, former New York Jets defensive lineman Marques Douglas, former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, former Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Bobby Taylor and former Chicago Bears wide receiver Curtis Conway.
Here's how Tuesday went.
8-8:50 a.m.: Diehl and O'Hara, who drove down together the night before from the Giants' practice facility in East Rutherford, N.J., file in with the rest of the participants into an auditorium for "The Studio Show Overview" hosted by CBS' James Brown and Fox's Curt Menefee.
Brown and Menefee tell the participants to do their homework -- a major theme of the day -- and be informative and educational without coming off as condescending.
Bud Morgan, an ESPN talent consultant, then gives them several informative tips broken down by outlines. He also shows before-and-after video footage of several ESPN anchors and personalities to hammer home what participants should and shouldn't do. Morgan's tips for success include relaxation on air, short declarative opening sentences and purposeful pauses to enhance and slow down a dialogue.
"Let it breathe," Morgan tells the players. "Don't try to memorize words."
Diehl's group goes to "Edit Room No. 8" -- a small sound room for "Editing." This is where they learn how B-roll, packages and sound-over tapes are edited. They learn that analysts like Cris Collinsworth and Mike Mayock spend much of their time during a week breaking down film on teams to also know what highlights to ask editors to find for them. The players are also told that, at NFL Films, there is software that allows every play to be logged by various categories. If one wants to, he can find every third-and-one play during a season and see how Drew Brees did on third-and-ones or even check to see only plays that featured players high-fiving one another.
9:50-10:35 a.m.:Group B moves upstairs and walks past another group coming down the stairway. They go to a small office where ESPN's Ron Jaworski and NFL Films producer Greg Cosell show them how Jaworski uses tape to back up his information and that media analysts should study film in the same manner as an NFL player.
Cosell tells the players not to get lazy by using clichés such as "the other team wanted it more." They are also told that players need to learn about other positions. Cosell asks Diehl if he is ready to explain why the Giants got beat on a 60-yard pass play and break down what went wrong on a local New York television station.
Diehl joked, "that happened by the way last season."
"When I study film I am looking at the guys in the box, I am looking at the guys in the O-line picture and safeties a little bit," Diehl said later. "But I am not watching film concerning whether it is cover-two or not. If I talk about offensive line play the whole time, I would bore people."
10:40-11:25 a.m.: It's time to head downstairs to a meeting lounge to learn about radio broadcasts. Howard Deneroff, Westwood One VP and executive producer, plays two separate broadcasts of play-by-play touchdown calls and instructs players what to do and what not to do. One touchdown call by a particular broadcast team had both the play-by-play man and color man shouting over one another while celebrating their team's game-winning touchdown. The other one was an example of a tandem working together in harmony with the color man offering a vivid description of the touchdown run.
Sirius' Ross Tucker, who used to play for the Redskins and is a broadcast boot camp alum, instructs the players how to conduct radio interviews and to know as much about every team in the league when doing a national call-in show so you can answer a caller from Buffalo wanting to ask about the Bills' nickel cornerback.
"When you are on for three hours, there's nowhere to hide on radio," Tucker said.
11:30-12:15 a.m.: Group B walks back upstairs to a conference room where they are greeted by Menefee and NFL Network's Brian Baldinger for the "Show Prep" session.
The two pepper all the players around the table as if they were debating a topic in studio on issues ranging from Donte' Stallworth returning to the league to whether Sam Bradford should start as a rookie quarterback. Diehl stayed up late the night before doing his homework and even mentions facts about Stallworth and how he was celebrating a big salary bonus before the fatal accident that kept him out of the league.
12:15-1:00 p.m.: Some players get to go to lunch. Diehl and a few others head to wardrobe and makeup to get ready for their taping later in the day in studio before grabbing a quick bite.
1:00-1:55 p.m.: Diehl, Douglas and Conway join Tucker in a radio studio as they go on Sirius NFL radio live. The three interview each other while also answering questions from Sirius' hosts. Diehl talks about the prospects of an 18-game season and the Albert Haynesworth soap opera.
Afterward, he gets some constructive criticism and is told to stay away from repeatedly using phrases like "you know" and "obviously." He also is told not to use Coughlin's term of "green zone" since he would have to explain that to the audience, which is used to hearing red zone.
When the next rotation of Ward, Muhammad and Taylor go in to do their radio session, Diehl does more research on the Redskins on his iPad for his upcoming TV studio test.
2:00-2:55 p.m.: Once the radio interviews are done, the group meets with high-ranking network executives.
The players have a lively question-and-answer session with the NFL's Dick Maxwell, NBC's Molly Solomon, CBS' Harold Bryant and Deneroff.
The executives in charge of finding talent all give the players tips on how to break into the business and encourage them to use their ties to where they played their professional and college football to their advantage. Maxwell tells Diehl to start asking Giants VP of communications Pat Hanlon to help him find new opportunities and perhaps volunteer to do local TV guest appearances during the Giants' bye week.
3:00-3:55 p.m.: While Group B heads to their "Green Room/Final Prep" session, O'Hara's Group C is in the NFL Films main studio for set taping. This is the big test of the day when the players from each group go on set, sit behind the desk with their host, Brown, and discuss one of six segment topics under the lights and before the cameras on what is simulated live television. The topics include Brandon Marshall's impact on the Dolphins, the new overtime rule, how Donovan McNabb will fit in with the Redskins, how soon Bradford should start, whether NFL players are role models and Stallworth's return.
O'Hara's talks about Marshall and impresses Glenn Adamo, NFL Network's VP of media operations, by likening some wide receivers to divas. Each player does two takes and O'Hara, who is always comfortable talking before cameras in the locker room while being interviewed, slips up a few times.
As he walks out of the studio, O'Hara sees Diehl and tells his teammate how nervous he was, describing how sweaty his palms were.
"In his first take he was very good," Adamo said. "He was looking around a little bit. He came out with some good things that really made you visualize what he meant."
4:00-4:55 p.m.: Diehl paces outside practicing his answers to himself while his group mates take turns during their tapings. Once he walks into the studio, Diehl exudes confidence, telling everybody on set, "I'm ready to go!"
The 6-foot-5, 319-pound left tackle gets a last-second powder touch-up from the makeup artist and then proceeds to attack his topic -- McNabb and the Redskins -- as if he were trying to pancake a defensive end.
But, it's the always-smooth Brown who actually delivers a blooper when he forgets Diehl's topic on air and has to do the first take over again. Diehl is not bothered and his delivery is smooth. He starts his answer by looking at Brown before naturally turning toward the camera -- as he has been taught -- and begins to rattle off what clearly is a memorized answer. Diehl is so focused that he answers Brown's first question with multiple lengthy answers almost as if he were reading off a teleprompter.
He argues McNabb is a great fit in Washington and will be rejuvenated by his new surroundings. He also impress Brown and Adamo by saying he called Redskins offensive line coach Chris Foerster, who raved about McNabb's attitude.
Diehl was flying until he stumbles trying to remember the names of McNabb's new offensive tackles and running backs. Adamo tells him to slow down his answers and keep them shorter and allow Brown to help get Diehl's points across by breaking them up with several questions as opposed to answering it all in large chunk.
"Now I'm ready for this one!" Diehl says of the second take.
Diehl does even better in the second take, and draws praise from Brown for describing McNabb's departure from Philadelphia as "if there is a healthy divorce, this is one of them."
"[Diehl] played to the camera like he was talking to me in my living room," Adamo raved. "I felt very comfortable. I think David is very analytical and very thorough and either he'd be a good studio analyst or game analyst."
5:00-9:00 p.m.: Now it's off to do an interview for an NFL Films show on the Giants. Diehl is wearing his Super Bowl XLII ring for the occasion. Dinner is scheduled afterward along with a personal review of the tapings with panel members and experts.
Before dinner, Ward and Muhammad share a laugh over how nervous they were in the studio and how they botched their first takes. Diehl and O'Hara did the same earlier.
While their football careers will continue this season and hopefully for a few more years, Diehl, 29, and O'Hara, 33, by the looks and sounds of things, may have found their next calling.
"I think they are -- from what I have seen so far, it's still early -- in the top third," Adamo said of the two Giants. "Understand this is their first time. I thought both [Diehl and O'Hara]had a lot of composure. You can tell that they are in major markets because they are very comfortable in front of the camera. It was clear to me that David Diehl really did his homework. Shaun did as well. You can't fake that. I was really impressed."
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