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Lockout limbo: Anxious NFL rookies unable to get to work

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- There wasn't much time to celebrate during Christian Ponder's first day as a Minnesota Viking.

The Florida State quarterback, drafted 12th overall to take over for the departed Brett Favre, knew time was of the essence when he arrived at team headquarters Friday, and he spent all day meeting with coaches and going over X's and O's while the NFL lockout was temporarily lifted.

"We don't know how long this window will be open, so we have to take advantage of every moment and try to get him the information that we think he'll need to come back, whenever that is, with a working knowledge of what we're trying to accomplish," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said after introducing Ponder.

Ponder's cram session wasn't unique. Rookies across the league scrambled to get in, meet coaches and pick up playbooks before the doors were shut again.

"I'm ready as soon as this lockout is over," Chicago Bears first-round pick Gabe Carimi said. "I can't wait to come and start playing. I'm sure everyone feels that way too."

The lockout was restored Friday night after the owners were handed a legal victory by a federal appeals court. The labor fight threatens to rob this year's rookie class of precious preparation time in the offseason to get them ready to make the leap from college to the NFL.

"It's back to how it had been before, so we pretty much can't pass anything out," Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak said. "Once the draft is over today, we are done talking until this thing is worked out."

The lockout prevents rookies who didn't make it to headquarters Friday from speaking with coaches, picking up playbooks and working out at team facilities. Organized practices and minicamps also are off limits until the lockout is lifted again, which could come as early as next week or drag into the summer, depending on how things play out in the court system.

Coaches are concerned about having enough time to get the youngsters ready to contribute. That is particularly true for quarterbacks who might step in and play right away, including Ponder, Cam Newton in Carolina, Jake Locker in Tennessee, Blaine Gabbert in Jacksonville and Andy Dalton in Cincinnati.

"We're going to have to make up for lost time," Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. "Whenever something transpires, we'll be able to hit the ground running and be able to overcome whatever feeling of being behind the eight-ball that we may experience."

The uncertainty was making some of the rookies a little antsy.

"I'm just ready to get in and get to work," Dalton said. "With the whole lockout situation, I don't know what's going to happen. Once the chance comes, I'm ready to get in and get going."

Some players are pulling out all the stops to get up to speed. It was suggested to Denver Broncos second-round pick Rahim Moore during his introductory news conference that he contact first-round pick Von Miller to sneak a look at the team's defensive playbook.

"That would be a great idea," the former UCLA safety said. "A playbook is very important to get so we won't come in with nothing on our minds. You know we would get to have some type of (introduction) to the team. But, that's a great idea. I'm going to try to get in contact with him and get his number immediately."

Ponder said he would start contacting his new teammates right away, trying to forge a bond and chemistry with some of them during the time off.

"It's tough, especially with the uncertainty," Ponder said. "We have no idea what's going to happen, and I'm praying I'll be back here in two weeks for minicamp or whenever we're allowed."

While many veterans are welcoming the extra time away from what they perceive to be offseason busy work, the rookies are anxious for the orientation to get under way.

"With the lockout situation right now, you don't know when you'll be able to talk to your coach again, when you're going to get to the facility," Panthers third-round draft pick Sione Fua said. "For me, I've just got to take care of business on my end. Stay in shape, stay on track to graduate, and when I get the call to come in, just be ready to go and be in shape."

It's not much easier for coaches, who believe they need as much time as they can get to start molding the youngsters and preparing them for an increase in competition many aren't ready for when they leave school.

"We'll just be fluid," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "We'll react to what's going on. We have to play by the rules, and until we're told otherwise now, I guess those will be the rules."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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