View Full Version : Lockout will hurt rookies' progress

05-02-2011, 12:53 AM
Lockout will hurt rookies' progress
Monday, May 02, 2011
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Rookie Cameron Heyward need not worry about a sanctimonious NFL policy that he must wait to join the Steelers until Ohio State's classes end in June. Heyward has earned his degree, so he has the blessing of the league to pursue his new profession immediately.

Except, he can't. No one can, not the Steelers under contract and not the rookies they just drafted.

A federal appeals court in St. Louis expects to rule this week on whether the owners can continue to lock out their players or whether to reinstall the stay ordered by a federal judge last week. If the lockout is upheld, there likely will be no spring workouts until the full court can rule on the case later in the summer.

If that happens, even if ultimately the labor situation works itself out and the NFL plays the 2011 season as scheduled, the opportunities both in jobs and in playing time will be scant for the just drafted rookies.

It was hard to see the excitement the Steelers' coaches expressed to their draft class because of the elephant in the room -- the lockout. Coach Mike Tomlin shrugged it off as being the same animal for all 32 NFL teams, but the frustration was evident from some of his coaches.

Keith Butler coaches the linebackers and he knows how frustrating it was not to have fourth-round pick Thaddeus Gibson available last spring. Gibson, like Heyward, played at Ohio State. Unlike Heyward, he did not earn his degree when the Steelers drafted him a year ago. Other than a three-day minicamp, he could not participate in the Steelers preseason work because Ohio State's spring session did not end until June. In essence, Gibson was locked out and it caught up with him.

Gibson made the team but he was so far behind because of what he missed in the spring that when Aaron Smith was injured in October and the Steelers needed to add a defensive end to their roster, they waived Gibson to make room. Gibson now plays for the San Francisco 49ers.

Like Gibson and many other college defensive ends they have drafted, the Steelers want to convert Chris Carter to an outside linebacker for their 3-4 defense. They drafted him Saturday in the fifth round from Fresno State. Butler worried the lockout will hinder Carter, just as Gibson was held back.

"We had time with him in the minicamp, but other than that we had no time with him," Butler said of Gibson. "We got a little bit of time with him in the summer, but very little time. Then, he came into camp far behind.

"So I hope this thing gets done so we can get to work with these guys and teach them. Usually, we have three shots at them before they play a preseason game -- in the minicamp, in the OTAs and then in training camp. We give them a whole bunch of stuff early, then we kind of spread it out in OTAs and then in training camp it's spread out a little more."

Butler was speaking politically incorrect as far as the NFL is concerned; after all, it's the owners pushing the lockout that is preventing the rookies from joining their teams.

"That kind of takes out a couple of big steps for us," Butler continued, "especially if we don't get to have the minicamp and especially if we don't get to have the OTAs."

The Steelers drafted several rookies who might help them in the 2011 season if given the opportunity.

Immediate help could come from Heyward, who would be used the way the Steelers did Ziggy Hood his rookie season in 2009, filling in for a series or play here and there -- unless an injury or his play demands otherwise.

Tackle Marcus Gilbert and guard Keith Williams could provide help in an offensive line that needs it. The secondary thirsts for more talented cornerbacks and the Steelers drafted two of them, Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen; there is certainly opportunity for each. It's the same for running back Baron Batch, their seventh-round pick. He could provide help immediately on third downs.

But if they don't know what they're doing, the 2011 season for all of their rookies could be a wash, particularly if the lockout ends just before the season and there virtually is no training camp.

"It hurts the young players," Butler said of the lockout. "We've got a team of veterans, so it's really to our advantage a little bit in terms of the CBA because our guys know what we're doing defensively and offensively. The young guys, it's going to be a struggle for them and a struggle for me too trying to get them caught up."

The struggle continues this week in a federal courtroom in St. Louis.

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05-02-2011, 12:55 AM
'They're going to be so lost'
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 34956.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_734956.html)
Monday, May 2, 2011

If this were a normal NFL offseason, the Steelers would gather Friday for a three-day minicamp during which draftees and rookie free agents would practice and study alongside veterans.

The newcomers would leave Pittsburgh overwhelmed, as rookies do, following a crash course in Steelers football. But they would have a foundation from which the players and coaches could build.

Because of the labor impasse, rookies might not practice with their teams until training camp just weeks before the season opener, adding to the difficulty for those hoping to contribute or simply make a 53-man roster.

"The young guys, it's going to be a struggle for them and a struggle for me, too, trying to catch them up," Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said.

Teams soon could get a better idea how much practice there will be this offseason. An appeals court in St. Louis could rule as early as today to uphold or lift a stay of an injunction that briefly ended the lockout.

Until this week, coaches could direct their energy toward the draft. With an uncertain future, they could be idle when they normally would be busy teaching.

Teams typically are allowed one mandatory minicamp -- exceptions are granted for teams with a new head coach -- and 14 voluntary practices called organized team activities. The Steelers hold most of these practices in May and the first two weeks of June.

Hines Ward, James Farrior and Troy Polamalu don't need OTAs. Cameron Heyward, Marcus Gilbert and Curtis Brown, the Steelers' top three picks in this year's draft, do.

"We give (rookies) a whole bunch of stuff early, then we kind of spread it out in OTAs, and then in training camp it's spread out a little bit more," Butler said. "But it's re-taught to them three times (before the first preseason game), and they have a lot better chance of grasping it if we can do it in that manner."

Agent Ken Staninger described the situation as possibly being "a lost draft, other than (for) the elite-elite."

"The quarterbacks and offensive linemen and wide receivers, these young guys, can you imagine? With no minicamps and no OTAs, if they show up Aug. 1 to training camp, they're going to be so lost," Staninger said.

The importance of teaching rookies earlier than later cannot be overstated, Dallas coach Jason Garrett said.

"The OTA period that you get with these (rookies) is critical, not so much for getting them prepared for the season but getting them prepared for training camp," Garrett said during the NFL owners meetings in March. "When we put our installation in minicamp and our OTAs, it's all geared toward when they come into training camp they are able to compete on a level where you can really see what kind of players they are."

Of the newest Steelers, only Heyward was drafted while the NFL was briefly back in business last week. Thus he was the only one of the seven draftees who received a playbook from the team.

Second-round pick Marcus Gilbert also may have an advantage over other rookies because of his friendship with Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey. If offseason practices are lost to the labor strife, Gilbert can work out and study with Pouncey, with whom he played at Florida.

"I need to take advantage of it and get with the (veterans) and work with them in drills until this thing ends," Gilbert said.

It is impossible to predict when players will be allowed to work out and practice with their teams. That is why coach Mike Tomlin last week imparted a message to the team's draftees.

"They need to focus on the things they can control, and that's their level of conditioning and mental and physical readiness," Tomlin said. "If they come in in great condition, that's a great start, regardless of circumstance."

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05-02-2011, 12:56 AM
For those not drafted, an anxious wait
Monday, May 2, 2011
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 34962.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_734962.html)

The first thing Dom DeCicco thought after he realized he wouldn't be selected in the NFL Draft: "What a horrible situation."

The former Thomas Jefferson and Pitt safety was among about a dozen players with local connections who weren't one of the 254 selected during this past weekend's draft, leaving them on the open market.

Problem is, because of the NFL lockout, teams are forbidden to contact undrafted free agents, let alone sign them, until the lockout is lifted and the league resumes its normal activities.

That could be in a couple days or a couple months.

"What a horrible time to have a lockout," said Elijah Fields, a former Pitt safety and Duquesne High School who finds himself in the same situation as DeCicco.

Until a lockout resolution is reached, players like DeCicco and Fields can only wait -- and hope.

"You have to hope that it ends so you have time to prepare the proper way," said fullback Henry Hynoski, who left Pitt a year early to test the NFL waters. "The only thing you can do is stay in shape and wait."

Making an NFL roster as a rookie free agent is tough enough, but if the lockout drags on, it might make it impossible.

Teams typically sign undrafted free agents moments after the draft. The players arrive at the facility the next day, participate in a three-day minicamp later in the week and attend organized team activities before reporting to training camp.

Now a rookie free agent's first exposure with a team might not come until training camp.

"The quicker this lockout is over, the better it is as free agent," DeCicco said. "If it works out like that, it is going to be a complete uphill climb. It would be really tough to make a team that way."

Teams were able to contact players during the draft. Nearly a dozen organizations were in touch with DeCicco and Hynoski and expressed interest in signing them to a free agent deal.

Until the lockout ends, they said they will dissect which team best suits them.

"It is usually that you just sign right away," DeCicco said. "Sometimes emotion can play in to it. The reality of it now is that I am going to a place that is going to be the best fit for me."

Hynoski, who said he was shocked he wasn't drafted, feels he will be able to adjust to the pro game quickly, even if there is an extended lockout.

"I think I can be thrown right in the mix and play," Hynoski said.

It's not that simple for Fields.

He was kicked off the Pitt team two years ago and didn't play football this past fall.

Fields would be grateful to have any chance, even if that means waiting a little longer.

"You just have to make the best of your opportunity with whatever chance you get," Fields said. "All I want is a chance. It doesn't matter where or when."

Read more: For those not drafted, an anxious wait - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... z1LAT9W59t (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_734962.html#ixzz1LAT9W59t)

05-02-2011, 12:56 AM
Appeals court could rule today on NFL lockout
By Associated Press
Monday, May 2, 2011
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 34929.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_734929.html)

NEW YORK -- If these are not fun times for football fans, they are captivating days for lawyers.

The NFL lockout is back in effect after a hiatus last week. A St. Louis appeals court could determine as early as today whether the league deserves a permanent stay of an injunction granted to the players in Minnesota to block the lockout.

"We are in uncharted but fascinating legal territory," said agent and attorney Ralph Cindrich of Carnegie, as he examined the short-term reinstatement of the lockout by three judges from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. "The owners' lockout is temporary now. It can become permanent after the same three judges do a detailed review. If the lockout is reinstated, it puts the players down on points big."

If it's not, something Cindrich predicts, league business could resume almost immediately, even as more NFL appeals are filed. Cindrich believes that even though those judges voted 2-1 Friday to review the matter, they won't overturn Judge Susan Richard Nelson's determination that the lockout was preventing players from earning a living.

With the draft behind them, the 32 teams can't have contact with any players. That includes veterans, rookies just selected and undrafted free agents, who usually sign contracts hours after the draft or the next day.

"You just do what you do and abide by the guidelines the league puts out," Rams general manager Billy Devaney said. "Everybody's in the same boat. ... It'll eventually get settled, and you just go with it."

Going with it for the players means training on their own. For first-round picks, it means devouring the playbooks they received from their teams during Friday's short break in the lockout. For coaches, it means evaluating how they addressed their needs in the draft and which undrafted players they might approach when allowed to do so.

Even if the players win the next round in appeals court, it is uncertain how business would resume.

Among the league's options is reinstating the 2010 guidelines, which featured more limited free agency and no salary cap. And no minimum for spending, which could come into play more than ever with some owners who fear profits will continue to decline.

"It's a chaotic time," said Ben Dogra, agent for last year's No. 1 overall pick, Sam Bradford, among other players. "There are a lot of moving points, and it means daily uncertainty."

Read more: Appeals court could rule today on NFL lockout - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... z1LATLPy9k (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_734929.html#ixzz1LATLPy9k)

05-02-2011, 07:16 AM
I dont advocate cheating..Its horrible and I am totally against it.. but man I hope we are.. I hope we are sneaking playbooks to these kids.. orchestrating secret back alley workouts with disguised positions coaches..

05-02-2011, 07:55 AM
I'm clueless when it comes to the finer details of football. But our first round pick already got his playbook Friday before the stay was issued. Could he have copies made and given to the remaining draft picks? Or are there different playbooks for offense and defense?

05-02-2011, 08:00 AM
different playbooks.

05-02-2011, 09:39 AM
I'm clueless when it comes to the finer details of football. But our first round pick already got his playbook Friday before the stay was issued. Could he have copies made and given to the remaining draft picks? Or are there different playbooks for offense and defense?

I'm pretty sure every player drafted has a play book. If you were an owner/coach wouldn't you just give both to him given the circumstances.

Aren't playbooks digital nowadays?

05-02-2011, 10:48 AM
i would hope some guys like clark, mcfadden, smith, harrison would get these guys phone numbers and call them up and get them out to the area and hold their own 'drills' if that is legal.

05-02-2011, 10:57 AM
You would hope that the NFL does something like expanded practcie squads for one year to compensate for the chos and the negative effects on the rookies and especially UDFAs.

05-02-2011, 11:03 AM
I dont think Expanding the practice squad would help all that much.. The players would have to clear waivers to be placed on the Ps - that "could" be disastrous.