One of the advantages of playing in the Pac-10 or the Big Ten is an increased opportunity at the national title because they don't play conference championship games that knock off contenders last in the season.
On the flip side, however, is that once players from many teams in those conferences reach the NFL, they start off behind the 8-ball. Because many Pac-10 and Big Ten schools are on the quarters system, their graduation dates aren't until June. And because rookies can't return to their teams until May 15 or following their school's spring semester concludes, many are missing out on key Organized Team Activities the next several weeks.
Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis preempted the issue, taking classes last summer to complete his requirements early, so he is on-hand at St. Louis' workouts. But Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez is missing critical on-field time because Southern California doesn't finish up classes until next month. In the meantime, Kellen Clemens is taking the majority of the reps in minicamp.
Cincinnati, a member of the Big East, is another school that has classes into June. That's holding back defensive end Connor Barwin. The Texans are excited about his potential, but Barwin is a very raw prospect who needs all the practice time he can get if he wants to contribute in 2009. He won't be back on the field until the Bengals' June 15-17 minicamp.
In Kansas City, new coach Todd Haley has opened up competition across the board, and there are plenty of opportunities for young players to jump on. But when the Chiefs start their OTAs on May 18, fourth-round cornerback Donald Washington (Ohio State) and linebacker Corey Smith (Cincinnati) won't be there.
"That's a disadvantage for them," said Haley. "They'll have to work very hard to catch up."
As Haley looks at it, it's another obstacle for rookies who are already 28 workouts behind the veterans they are competing against.
"Just to give themselves an equal chance to compete they can't waste a day," said Haley. "When they go back to school they have to be working out and once they get here they have to have to put the pedal to the metal. If they don't, they are not going to have an equal chance to compete because they are already behind. It is an important situation to understand."
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