|Minnesota has high hopes for Christian Ponder, but his progress could be limited without coaching or practices.|
There's little doubt in my mind that some teams are losing ground in their preparation for 2011 due to the unique circumstances of the offseason.
There are several things teams and players must overcome. Rookies not getting a start toward their NFL indoctrination in a post-draft minicamp. No organized team activities. Coaches having no clue which restricted and unrestricted free agents will be back. Still, for all the challenges, some teams are actually pulling ahead of the competition thanks to offseason preparation.
Certain factors are helping teams have a better chance to hit the ground running whenever the lockout is over. Continuity in the coaching staff is a major plus. Having a true leader at quarterback is also an advantage, especially one who can organize practices and bring along the rookies. The same can be said for a defensive presence that can get the unit on the same page.
Teams that hired a new coach are even further behind. At this point, it seems the Jaguars and Dolphins were smart to retain their coach and get through 2011 with some stability at the top. Coaching changes in Carolina, Cleveland, Denver, Minnesota, Oakland, San Francisco and Tennessee have led to each team also bringing in two new coordinators. There are nine more new coordinators around the league and they will be installing their philosophies this summer instead of practicing.
The teams falling behind the most seem to be the Panthers, Vikings and Titans. All three have new coaches, a rookie quarterback who can't organize team practices and a scheme the players can't really work on without help from coaches.
Conversely, playoff teams from a season ago are already good, but are creating more distance between themselves and the upstart teams that need guidance, direction and leadership. Look at how Drew Brees got the Saints together last week, with 37 players working out.
As one general manager said to me this week, "A few more weeks of this lockout and it could be a lost season for some clubs that just won't have the time to get ready."