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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

NFL lockout may increase quality of football come fall

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No mini-camps. No OTAs. No supervised workouts. No playbooks for some. No structure at all.

What in the world will the NFL look like opening week if the labor situation doesn't get settled for another 10 days or so and all that the teams will have to get ready is training camps?

Sloppy? Ugly? Unorganized?

"You won't notice a difference," said one AFC personnel director. "Coaches are resilient. Players are resilient. In the football business, we all know how to adjust. That's what we do during games. It's always about adjustments. And that's what will happen here. The idea that the game won't look the same is foolish."

Over the course of the past couple of days, I've talked to several coaches, personnel men and players to try and get a gauge for what we might expect on the field when all the court stuff and negotiations come to a resolution.

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Surprisingly, not one person said they thought the play would be bad. Some actually said the game would be better.

Better?

"We're mentally rested," said one player. "We haven't had to be at the facility all the time. We've taken trips. We've gotten away from it. It's good to get away from it. It gives you separation from the next year. It will feel more like a new season. The mental side is a big part of football. Getting away from it for everyone is a good thing. Guys will be refreshed. Coaches will be refreshed."

Said the AFC personnel director: "He does have a point. This has been a strange offseason. But it has given a lot of people a chance to step away from the game some. It's actually been good in some ways."

Several of the players I talked with said their bodies feel as good as they have in a long time. The aches and pains they normally might have heading into camp have eased because they haven't had the organized team activities. They're working out on their own to stay in shape, but they aren't on the field doing 11-on-11 and other drills in what is supposed to be a non-contact practice, but really includes some contact.

The players are expected to get more time away from the team facility when the new CBA is completed, and this year might be a good way to test if that will really matter. There will be fewer OTAs and less demanded in terms of the offseason conditioning program, which some think means a time to let the body heal.

Before the push for all the offseason work -- which some say was started a little over 20 years ago by Jimmy Johnson of the Cowboys -- players had time off to heal. Sure, some got out of shape, but the smart ones were usually ready for camp.

Then it became almost a year-round job. Players in recent years have taken a month or two to rest, and then it was back to the offseason program, including minicamps and up to 19 allotted OTA days. There was a short break before camp, and then it was full go in camp.

When did the bodies rest? Several players and coaches think that some of the injuries that have occurred -- pulls and the like -- may be because of the strain on player's bodies. So while there is strong speculation that the loss of the off-season this year will cause more injuries, some say it might do the opposite.

"It's hard to say," one NFC coach said. "But that makes some sense. I don't think missing the time will hurt as much as some think it will."

The younger players, and players changing teams will be hurt the most because they will have missed all the installation that could have taken place during the off-season. Now it has to be accelerated. That will make for a lot of spinning heads early in camp.

If the lockout is lifted, the Jaguars' Blaine Gabbert will be expected to learn an unfamiliar system in very little time. (Getty Images)  
If the lockout is lifted, the Jaguars' Blaine Gabbert will be expected to learn an unfamiliar system in very little time. (Getty Images)  
Even with the playbooks, which most of the rookie quarterbacks do have in their possession, it will be tough to understand the concepts in that book, without learning them on the field.

Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, whose team drafted quarterback Blaine Gabbert in the first round in April, likened it to giving somebody a book to learn to speak Chinese and then expecting them to speak it fluidly in a month. Teams with new coaches will also be rushed. The staffs in Carolina, Tennessee, San Francisco and others will have to have an accelerated pace to their installations. That will make it challenging even for veteran players.

But it's doable.

"It is just football," said one NFC coach. "Let's not forget that. It's just football."

One player offered the theory that the game will actually be better because the players who aren't ready when camp opens won't have the time to get a foot in the ass to get ready.

The 20 percent or so of the players that won't be in shape, and those that have slow learning curves, won't be on the field. In the past, those players could be pushed in the organized offseason work to get in shape and have the time to learn the book. But the less-motivated players could now get left behind.

"It will be the guys who have put in the work," the player said. "That means the knuckleheads will get left behind. That will make for a better game."

So don't expect a total disaster when games are played early in the season. And don't expect a ton of injuries just because players haven't been under the watchful eye of their team's staffs.

The bottom line, according to those I talked with, is that the football won't be any different at all.

It might actually be better.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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