ELMA, N.Y. -- It almost happened, everyone's worst nightmare at a time when NFL players are practicing at their own risk.
Running back Fred Jackson ran to catch a long throw from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick but wound up being caught up in netting along the sidelines of an indoor practice field at Sahlen's Sports Park, where 37 Buffalo Bills players gathered to work out Tuesday. Jackson then began to slip and slide on the slick concrete surface that surrounds the turf. He managed to stay upright, grabbing the net to help prevent what easily could have been a nasty spill -- especially for someone not wearing helmet or pads.
Suffice it to say that the scene was uncomfortable enough to serve as the final play of a two-and-a-half-hour session.
"I felt bad," Fitzpatrick said. "But Fred's an athlete, as we saw right there. Freddy doesn't get hurt, man. Fred just keeps going with the punches."
Which pretty well sums up the theme of how players are dealing with the NFL lockout.
Those on many teams, such as the Bills, are doing the best they can to maintain some semblance of normal offseason training even though they can't work at their team facilities and aren't allowed any contact with their coaches.
They bring their own coolers, packed with ice, sports drinks and bottled water. They bring their own shoes, which they periodically change in accordance to the type of work they're doing on the field. They also brought in their own trainers to help lead them through stretches and other agility and running drills. However, when it comes to the types of pass patterns the receivers run, Fitzpatrick acts as both quarterback and offensive coordinator.
"It is productive, just to get the guys back, see the guys and working with the guys," wide receiver Lee Evans said. "This is what we do. Regardless of the things that (representatives of the players and the NFL) have to take care of, this is what we do and we try to prepare ourselves to be ready to play whenever things come to a head and we get the opportunity. Whether that's tomorrow or six months down the road, we've got to be prepared mentally and physically to go in there and play."
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The Bills are two days into a five-day session that represents their largest gathering of players since the end of the 2010 season. Although it seemed mostly organized and players took a business-like approach to what they were doing, Fitzpatrick described it as "a work in progress."
"The throwing's a lot different because we're not doing seven-on-seven, we're not doing stuff against the defense, and we shouldn't be doing that because once you get guys pitted against each other, they get competitive, and that's when injuries are going to occur," Fitzpatrick said. "And right now guys can't afford to get injured (because there is no medical coverage from their teams)."
Which is what made Jackson's close call so scary.