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Is the Lockout Starting to Affect Play?
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Unlike the draft, training camp and other non-game NFL events, OTA camps have never been a big hit with fans. They take place behind closed doors, with relatively little media scrutiny, generating few headlines. There's an old saying: If it wasn't on TV, did it really happen?
Once it became clear a few months ago that the owners and players were settling in for a long dispute rather than reaching across the bargaining table to shake hands, the OTA camps figured to be the first palpable football casualties of the spat. And indeed, they're about to go by the wayside.
The fans, not unexpectedly, are issuing big yawns, sticking with their mantra of not really caring about the labor brouhaha until regular-season games are missed.
The players? Don't tell anyone, but as the OTA season comes and goes, most of them probably are happy to miss their version of jury duty.
The coaches are the only ones walking around with long faces, ruing the practice time lost.
The coaches would tell you that the loss of the OTA camps will have a major impact on the upcoming season, whenever it begins; the quality of play could suffer, they believe, perhaps even markedly, because of the fewer hours spent in preparation.
The OTAs might be drudgery, but they're a key part of the Xs-and-Os cycle, one of those behind-the-scenes events where real work is conducted. Coaches indoctrinate rookies and introduce new plays and tactical changes. All that and more will now likely unfold on the fly after an agreement is reached and before any new season begins, with less time for coaches to instruct and for players to learn.
It's nice to see players on many teams, including the Ravens, take it upon themselves to organize workouts – next week at Towson University for the Ravens. But while they should be applauded for their professionalism, their workouts won't replace what is being missed.
The rookies will surely borrow playbooks and benefit from the time spent with their new teammates, but without coaches around to instruct, the workouts will amount to little more than leg-stretching exercises.
Want to read more ?John Eisenberg
The coaches whose faces are especially long are the first-timers running teams in transition, the coaches with new systems and schemes to install, new rules and attitudes to establish. The Ravens are scheduled to play four games against such teams in 2011 – two against the Browns (with new Coach Pat Shurmur) and one each against the 49ers (with Jim Harbaugh) and Titans (with Mike Munchak).
The Ravens, meanwhile, are the opposite of a team in transition. John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco are entering their fourth seasons in their current roles, and the team has a slew of veteran leaders such as Ray Lewis and Derrick Mason. That shared history and experience would come in handy in a rushed run-up to a season. They could probably play a game tomorrow if pressed.
Oh, sure, the absence of OTAs, in combination with the lack of free agency, means the Ravens will have numerous questions to answer and a lot of catching up to do once normal operations resume. They're counting on draft picks Jimmy Smith and Torrey Smith to contribute right away, and they're going to need several free-agent fill-ins to be ready to go.
But while the Ravens will have issues in the wake of the lost OTAs, they won't have as many as some teams. At some point, before another game is played, that will matter.
John Eisenberg covers the Ravens for Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. He worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.