A great deal has been written about the potential vulnerability of this year’s rookie class should the legal circus that is the collective bargaining process between the owners and players continue through what would normally be training camp.
There is no question that the contributions of this group of players will be dramatically affected as the process gets drawn out.
However, there is another subgroup that no one is talking about that may have an even greater impact on the season — the substantial group of players entering their second year in the league.
The transition from rookie organized team activities through training camp and into the season is well documented with varying degrees of success. The contributions of many rookies are easily quantified. But by and large, it is this crop of rookie players’ growth in their first legitimate offseason that leads to major roles on their respective teams in Year 2.
I recently spoke with San Diego Chargers coach Norv Turner and he commented on how he most regrets the loss of an offseason interaction with players like running back Ryan Mathews and inside linebacker Kion Wilson, both listed as starters.
“Most players will make the biggest jump, with regards to become a real professional, in the transition from their first to second year. “ Turner said. “Going into their rookie year they are just in a constant fog.
“But now that they have the routine down, and know what is expected, you see huge jumps in their comprehension and performance coming into their second year. Missing that offseason interaction with their coaches and teammates is costly.”
The Chargers moved up in last year’s draft to get Mathews with the 12th overall pick out of Fresno State, but he was hurt for most of the season. Wilson was an undrafted free agent who was waived, re-signed, then put on IR. Both these players desperately need this offseason to take the next step.
In Atlanta, if the Falcons are going to move forward in the playoffs this year, the defense must improve — more specifically second-year linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. The former Missouri Tiger had a solid first year, but has a real chance to take control of this defense in the way you want your middle linebacker to do, but it must come with a big jump in comprehension going into the second year.
If the Packers are going to repeat as Super Bowl champs, they will need second-year starters offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga and strong safety Morgan Burnett to make that same transition into true veteran status in their second year.
How important to the New York Jets is the development of second-year offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse or to the New England Patriots with the development of their talented group: tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, cornerback Devin McCourty or linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham?
If Tampa Bay is going to take that next big step and be as good as many think they will be, wide receivers Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn coupled with defensive lineman Gerald McCoy and Brian Price must have substantial increases in productivity in their second years.
The list goes on and on, and virtually every team is going to count on some key contribution from an important second-year player.