Pace of play key as NFL players return from lockout

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Pace of play key as NFL players return from lockout

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
The suits and briefcases portion of this offseason should end in about 10 days. That will bring on the whistles and shoulder pads stage. And that's when the 2011 season will get very interesting and a possible war of attrition begins. Coaches haven't had hands on their players in nearly five months. Thesmoking desire to cram knowledge, technique and conditioning into men who ensure the coaches' continued employment and professional success can finally be released. But will the players be ready? "It's important that players have the proper time to prepare mentally for what they're about to go into with training camp," former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel saidFriday on WEEI's Big Show."And by that I mean, 'What's expected of them? What plays that are going to be run? What's the packages? What's the installation?' and then go out there and execute it in practice. But I think to just go suit up and throw pads on and go play isgoing tobe a detriment to the players and one that will probably get some guys injured."Consider the various dynamics coaching staffs face once the owner-player battle ends. Physical evaluations: The fact that players could visit team doctors during the lockout will help smooth the return of guys coming back from injuries in 2010. Still, who's gotten stronger? Faster? Who is woefully out of shape and simply won't be suited to be on the field? Scheme tweaks: For the last few months, coaches have had little else to do other than self-scout -- throwing out plays that didn't work or weren't used and installing improvements. How do you get the new stuff in to the established players in this compressed time? How do you get the rookies and new acquisitions versed in every single thing that your team is about? Practice adjustments: Two-a-days as we've known them are going away. According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, teams will be allowed a helmet-less, non-contact practice in place of a second full-pads workout. Bill Belichick alters his schedule every year. The past two, he's been heavy with two-a-days and having the players in pads often. That'sprobably been because of the team's relative youth. There's little doubt that Belichick is going to hate having the standard physicality legislated out of camp. Health concerns: Between dehydration, muscle pulls and the inevitable contact injuries, the attrition is going to come early. There's talk of expanded training camp rosters which will give teams more cannon-fodder and allow principal players to take fewer reps. For instance, the Patriots are going to have to add a kicker or two immediately because Stephen Gostkowski -- coming off quad surgery last season -- is not going to be in a position to kick all day long. Time management and delegation: Head coaches who also wear a personnel hat -- like the Patriots -- are going to see their leader splitting his time between free agent negotiation and acquisition, rookie contract progress, assistant coach oversight, scheme implementation, planning, and so on. This could be one of the most challenging seasons ever for coaches. Vrabel said that the move from negotiation to actual football has been a topic discussed. "It's been called it the 'transition phase' into the season," he explained. "You have to have time for a new league year to begin. And with a new league year comes free agency. Then there's a learning process from the players that are on your roster before training camp. There's a lot that goes into it and guys like (Chiefs GM and former Patriots personnel man) Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick that are used to being general managers are going to feel the crunch of this process. But they'll live and they'll be able to survive."Survive? No question. Thrive? It will be fascinating to watch unfold. Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran