The ruling favoring the owners that came down this past Monday, allowing them to continue locking the players out, sets the stage for the June 3 showdown in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
While free agency remains in limbo (this includes veterans and college free agents), the scheduled OTAs (organized training activities) window will officially be closed next week and rookie mini-camps are just events on paper that never happened in 2011.
Like most people, and more so for professional athletes and coaches, they are creatures of habit. Their lives are schedule-driven while one calendar year leads into another and it just keeps flowing.
This time of year, NFL players are working hard in both the weight room and on the field training, putting in hundreds of hours preparing for the next season. Coaches are grumpy, motivating and pumping up egos to get them ready for the next drill, and this goes on for several weeks. It is very tough to simulate game speed with cones, ropes, sprints and individual drill work, while formation play-calling recognition is just not the same. It is different without the head coach, assistants and general managers present to oversee the players’ every move. While players push each other to get better through competition, it is just not the same.
The player reps, the team leaders on both sides of the ball, have organized player workouts around the country. The most impressive get-together is down in New Orleans, where team leader Drew Brees has assembled and orchestrated what looks closest to NFL practice sessions based off of video footage. Other clubs are not as organized, and players are on their own during this window. These workouts are beneficial to those that have that inner drive and passion for the game.
The lack of a level playing field starts to surface for the several teams that had a change in coaching staffs. The franchises that experienced turnover in the head coaching ranks (John Fox in Denver, Ron Rivera in Carolina, Pat Shurmur in Cleveland, Leslie Frazier in Minnesota, Mike Munchak in Tennessee, Hue Jackson in Oakland, Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco and Jason Garrett in Dallas) are clearly at a disadvantage with their inability to teach, coach and instruct their players on the new system structure, not to mention the installation of new offensive and defensive playbooks (even down to the proper way to align for stretching).
The major concern with unsupervised workouts is the fear of injury to all players, not just the stars. When receivers work an escape drill against defensive backs’ bump technique, offensive linemen vs. defensive linemen one-on-one pass-rush drill work or linebackers covering running backs, the competitive nature from within surfaces on every snap.
The chances of ankles or knees getting twisted and creating injury are moderately high, not to mention soft tissue injuries such as hamstring pulls, that if not treated properly could last all season. This is why several players choose to work out on their own or in non-competitive drill work in almost shadow technique where players don’t have any contact while remaining close.
While the player’s goals are to remain in shape, stay focused and continue to build the team togetherness while pushing each other to get better, head coaches and front-office executives along with owners are holding their collective breath.