Coaches Feeling 'Lost' With Lockout

Offseason programs for most teams were set to begin next week but everything's on hold amid the labor strife.

NEW ORLEANS — On the day that head coach Mike Smith was to welcome the Atlanta Falcons for the start of the team's offseason program, he was dealing with a league moratorium on communications with the squad that finished with the best record in the NFC in 2010, and traveling here for the start of a league meeting that was surrounded by uncertainty.

"We were supposed to start (Sunday)," said Smith, during a pause in the coaches' meeting Monday morning. "It's just strange. Even before the start of the offseason program, guys would have been wandering in to talk about it, you know. It really is different. It's not like it's supposed to be."

Like players whose bodies typically signal the start of training camp, most of the coaches here were undergoing a sense of withdrawal.

While coach Mike McCarthy of the Super Bowl-champion Green Bay Packers was going to delay his offseason program until April to help his players recharge from a long season, the Falcons are one of the several franchises who, under normal circumstances, would be lifting weights, running sprints and performing aerobic drills this week.

Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis acknowledged the sensation would be "weird" on Monday, without the start of the offseason program.

Mike Tomlin of Pittsburgh allowed he "feels a little bit lost."

The Saints' Sean Payton noted he and most of his colleagues were "kind of helpless right now."

But the league lockout, which began last Friday, precludes coaches and players from having contact of any sort. Players aren't even allowed in the facility to work out on their own or to rehab injuries.

"It's different," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said. "I think it's OK for me to say this, we miss them. There was always somebody around, maybe not too many at this time of year, but by now people would start coming back to town. We miss them, and we're hoping this thing works out."

In fact, a few coaches and owners here for the meeting were reluctant to discuss their players even in generalities.

Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay confirmed what everyone has known, that there were negotiations with quarterback Peyton Manning about a contract extension before the lockout created the moratorium, but then asked somewhat sheepishly: "Is that something I can talk about?"

One coach who agreed that the start of offseason workouts is regrettable, but who downplayed the immediate significance, was Ken Whisenhunt of Arizona.

Whisenhunt said his Cardinals were slated to begin workouts this week.

"It's a shame ... but you probably don't have the real heavy interaction until May," Whisenhunt said. "But you want to have them around, sure, it's kind of just part of what you do.

"I've been going to a lot of 'Pro Days' lately. Seems like I'll be going to a lot more."


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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.


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