Lombardi: Holdouts

Many times players lose a grip mentally on their position, team

The Green Bay Packers 2005 training camp is under way. As I write this, the Packers top three picks are unsigned. This is not a new phenomenon. Nick Barnett and Ahmad Carroll both held out the past two years and missed a few days of practice. It is part of the landscape. The history of the NFL is littered with players with high expectations who hold out. Many never live up to the hype. Whether the holdout contributed to their failure is impossible to determine, but I can guarantee that it did not help.

As much as I accept the reality of it, it always frustrates me to see these young guys hold out, especially if it drags on for more than a few days. The NFL is so different from the college ranks. The coaching is better, the competition is better and the challenges and distractions are greater. The schemes are more complicated. The biggest difference is the speed. The NFL is so much faster than the college game. Some players never adjust. They cannot adapt to the level of competition and are out of the league in a few years after their potential is overshadowed by the reality of the game.

What is most worrisome is that many of these holdouts would never have suffered from these setbacks had they been on the field from the beginning of their first training camp. Many of them have the talent and the ability to play at this level. What happens is they miss some time and once they get into camp, everyone else is ahead of them.

Confidence suffers and their career is done before it begins. These holdouts finally arrive and struggle. They have missed the meetings and do not know the offense or defense. They question everything and slowly they begin to doubt themselves.

Their teammates begin to doubt them. The fans doubt them. The media doubts them and ultimately the coaches write them off. The questions and accusations start to fly. "Why did they draft that guy?" "Boy, they made a mistake on him." "Why didn't they take so and so instead?" The coaches wish the draft guys had found them some players. The draft guys wonder why the coaches cannot coach.

Depending on their contract and status, they may stick around long enough to overcome all this and catch up. Ultimately, the weakest will never regain the swagger and confidence to get the job done. This situation is compounded by all the second guessing and questioning by others. The catcalls rain down on them and a player cannot help but hear all the criticism and be affected by it.

The problem is not that they miss the practices and the ticky-tack drills. In most cases it is not a conditioning problem. The problem is they retard their assimilation into the team and the league. There is some resentment from other rookies and possibly from some veterans, especially from guys who play the same position or feel they are underpaid. So when the holdout finally reports, he is under great scrutiny and pressure to perform and if he struggles which is likely, the resentment and second guessing grows. It is a huge psychological drama. These kids are busts primarily because they cannot make the mental jump to the pros.

I hope these guys get signed and report to camp as soon as possible. It is in their best interests.


John Lombardi

Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. John resides with his family in Green Bay . His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. He will be contributing columns for PackerReport.com.


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