The 2020 season will be difficult for all players and coaches. With a lack of offseason, it will be particularly tough on young players.
Training camps are set to open this week, but with an elongated ramp-up period before practices begin and no preseason games to wet their feet during, rookies and young players will have a difficult learning curve to maneuver.
It's an issue coaches are acutely aware of this offseason.
"It's going to be a difficult year for younger players," Texans coach Bill O'Brien told Albert Breer of The MMQB. "With no preseason games, and less practice, especially having no rookie minicamps and no OTAs in the spring, you're gonna have to get down to who your team is faster than you have in the past and get your team ready to go, and do it in an intelligent way. I've had discussions with a lot of different guys on our team."
Those with the biggest impediments in their path are undrafted rookies and young players looking to break into the league. With few opportunities to impress coaches, it will be hard for young players to make rosters.
"One of our leaders is Dylan Cole," O'Brien said. "In 2017 he was a rookie tryout guy. He stood out to us and then we brought him on to the 90-man, and he played well in the preseason that year, and he made our team, and now he's a special teams captain. That's going to be hard for a guy to do this year. That's just how I see it. It's not that it can't be done, it's just going to be more difficult."
Not only are undrafted free agents going to find it more difficult to make their own squads, with no preseason games to put out tape, but they'll also have trouble landing gigs elsewhere this year. Every season there are a handful of young players who impress during the preseason but are ultimately cut and land elsewhere. This year, only the cutting team will have seen that player in action, making him less likely to land with another squad.
Teams are already making moves by shedding the bottom of the roster to get down to 80 players this week. Many of those cuts have been undrafted free agents.
Given the offseason restraints, it's more likely coaches and GM ride with veteran players who are known quantities, have experience in the league and can be trusted, even if they might not have the upside of a younger, more athletic player. Even with expanded practice squads, the newbies will have a harder time landing a job.
Another aspect working against young rookies is the off-field situation in which players must be careful about the types of situations they put themselves outside of the facility. Coaches are much more likely to trust a veteran player to be responsible every day when away from the team than a young player they haven't had as much experience with in the league. Relationships will be key when cut-down time comes.
"Houston's been a hotspot," O'Brien noted. "One of our major things here is to make sure our players know that, and to calm their nerves a little bit, let them know we have a very clean facility and that the big key is that when they leave the facility, they can't really go out to eat. They've gotta go home and they've gotta educate their families on how important it is to stay safe and stay healthy."