One of the very few benefits of the lockout is that, with no offseason workouts to conduct and time on their hands, coaches and personnel people have an enhanced opportunity during this football fallow period to "self-scout."
In the normal offseason, football people would be otherwise engaged in evaluating outside talent - draft choices, undrafted free agents, veteran free agents - more so than the bodies under their own roofs. But with the offseason extended by the work stoppage, and with coaches needing to earn their salaries (even if reduced in some cases), staffs have become increasingly introspective.
Note the term, "increasingly," because it's the operative word here.
Every franchise participates to some degree of "self-scouting" - identifying tell-tale trends, plays, weaknesses, strengths, second-guessing - in the offseason. Downs and distance, tied to play-calls, are parsed. Videotape cutups are created. Fresh ideas are posited. Staffs brainstorm about how to do things better. There is internal debate on how to adjust the status quo. All of it is part of the typical offseason look-back. But in this most unusual of offseasons, it seems, coaches are digging a little deeper in their intramural reviews.
And that's true for franchises that are relatively stable, and basically have the same staffs returning in 2011, as for the clubs with new coaches and fresh rationales.
"We've definitely assigned more 'projects' this year," a veteran NFC head coach noted. "We are taking a much harder look at ourselves. The work on free agency is done. We have time on our hands. So we're putting ourselves under the microscope more than we might in most offseasons."
One team is perusing its approach in the red zone. Another just completed an in-depth review of how it uses (or, more correctly, doesn't use) backs and receivers. A defensive staff is deep into breaking down how it can improve its effectiveness on third-and-long plays. Pick a specific situation and, chances are, it's meriting more in-depth attention and review this spring.
Said one defensive coordinator: "We're looking at ourselves on (tape), but also looking at ourselves in the mirror."
Indeed, teams not only want to learn more about how to attack opponents, but also how to battle themselves. But here's the dilemma: If training camps are reduced, and there is less time to initiate dramatic transformations, the changes will have to be modest at best. The lockout might mean that coaches have better ideas about how to do things, but less time to transfer those concepts onto the field.
Because of the lockout, relatively complex remedies divined during the "self-scouting" process might have to be kept simple.
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.