As the lockout drags on and pushes toward 110 days - by far the longest work stoppage in league history - much of the focus has been on each team's player-led workouts. Most of these sessions have included offensive skill-position players, with a few involving offensive linemen as well. It's believed that timing is crucial amongst quarterbacks, receivers and running backs, so getting together to work on fundamentals is time well spent.
Only a few defenses have engaged in similar efforts, as most units feel that workouts without coaches is futile. The same goes for those players whose contributions come mainly on special teams.
For most teams, the vast majority of the roster will be filled with players who have been left on their own to train and prepare for the rigors of a 16-game season, without any interaction with fellow players and coaches. Because of this lack of supervision, its safe to say a fair number of players will be less-than prepared for afternoon-long training camp sessions in the humidity and heat of the summer.
Yet even those who have stuck to their schedule and have engaged in drills on technique and fundamentals, won't be ready for the type of activity practices require, said Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.
"There is going to be kind of a grace period where guys are going to need to get back in football shape," Urlacher said at his 12th annual youth football camp in Albuquerque, N.M. "In the summer we do have practices and stuff where we can kind of get ready."
Last year, the Bears were one of the least-injured teams in the NFL. The only starter who missed any significant time was linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa. With the extended down time imposed by the work stoppage, don't expect that good fortune to carry over into 2011.
"Training camp is going to be different this year, if we do have it, because there are going to be a lot of injuries I think," Urlacher said. "Because guys, you can train on your own all you want but it's nothing like what you're going to do when you get to training camp."
DE Corey Wootton
Andy King/US Presswire
For the Bears, and every NFL team, this will surely provide numerous opportunities for backups to prove their worth as full-time contributors. This also puts extra emphasis on the coaching staff to make sure the less-experienced players are prepared to play when called upon.
Some of the players that could be asked to take on a more prominent role are second-year defensive end Corey Wootton, rookie safety Chris Conte, second-year cornerback Joshua Moore, and offensive lineman Levi Horn, who spent last year on the practice squad. Any injury to the starters would provide these players extended time on the field and give each the experience they are lacking.
One position that will be hard to fill is linebacker. Currently, the team only has two linebackers under contract: Urlacher and Lance Briggs, neither of whom are spring chickens. It's expected the team will re-sign Nick Roach, or G.M. Jerry Angelo could pursue a veteran free agent. If a starter were to be lost for any significant amount of time, this year's sixth-round pick J.T. Thomas would most likely be thrust into the spotlight. He's a bit undersized, so he'd fit best on the weak side, but he's very quick and good in coverage. Some early playing time might do him well.
Yet the team will be severely hurt if either Urlacher or Briggs is forced out. In 2009, when Urlacher sustained a season-ending injury in Week 1, the defense struggled, finishing in the bottom half of the league in total defense for the first time in three seasons.
If Urlacher is right, expect injuries to make this a very interesting year.
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