Time to cut back on playbooks
When Bill Belichick mentions condensing the Patriots' playbook because of lost workouts, people notice. If a veteran team with a superstar quarterback might do so, what is everyone else planning?
As the lockout approaches its 10th week, with a conclusion not likely in sight as the owners and players haggle in court, minicamps and offseason workouts at team facilities are being canceled. That's essential time gone for teams making coaching changes or bringing in new talent at key positions.
It's time that can't be replaced no matter how jam-packed teams' training schedules become once there is a labor settlement.
''Do you think Mark Sanchez could have gotten us to two straight AFC championship games without those (meetings and practices)?'' Jets fullback Tony Richardson said. ''The one thing you can't replace is time, and the young guys coming into the league this year won't have the benefit of that time with the coaches and with the playbook.''
That playbook might not be so bulky or intricate when the players do get back with their teams. Belichick, who with Tom Brady and an experienced offense wouldn't seem the type to need or make cutbacks, indicated to the Boston Herald he'll do exactly that.
''Yeah, something's going to have to go, I would think,'' Belichick said. ''The progression's got to stay the same and you still have to start at one point and build forward on it, but the width of that or the breadth of that amount of installation, I think, could definitely be subject to being trimmed back. Maybe drastically. I don't know, but it's possible, sure.''
Some players not only expect a CliffsNotes version of the playbooks, but encourage it.
''It does need to be done soon, just for the simple fact that we can't pick everything back up in September and play football,'' Lions receiver Nate Burleson said. ''This isn't flag football. We're not going to give a C-minus product on the field for the fans. People paying for the tickets are paying for a product, they're paying for the best athletes in the world. That takes organization and chemistry.
''If this thing continues to go on, that Week 1 and 2 is not going to be exciting to watch. I wouldn't want to sit at home and watch a group of guys throw the ball around that haven't seen each other in weeks.''
Using a trimmed-down game plan would make execution easier and should raise the quality of play. Some teams have dozens of passing plays, for example, and each has variations. Other teams have complex defensive schemes built on alternating personnel, blitzes and interchangeable parts.
Much of that is taught in the offseason, particularly in minicamps, when hitting basically is forbidden. Sure, weight training, running and exercising are critical for players staying in shape. But a majority of the mental work is done long before the pads and helmets go on.
Then there are the workouts as a team, a key element to building chemistry. As Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman said, ''There's a lot things you can't learn by just looking at a playbook.''
Richardson has spent 16 seasons in the NFL after not even being drafted out of Auburn. He traveled the most difficult road to earn a roster spot, and he worries about any player coming into the league without ''basic training.''
''For me, the playbook is not higher mathematics,'' he said. ''But I'm going on 17 years in the league. I've seen what coaches can come up with.
''For these young guys, I understand how much they need to be sitting between veterans in the locker room and being a part of a team. That's a way for them to learn, too, and they aren't getting the chance now.''
AP Sports Writers Joseph White in Washington and Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this story.