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Former players expect ragged start to NFL season

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July 28, 2011
— Kurt Warner hears about Matt Hasselbeck joining the Titans and Donovan McNabb going to the Vikings and sees a direct link to the NFL lockout.

The retired two-time MVP, who knows a thing or two about being a veteran quarterback mentoring a rookie, initially thought first-round draft picks Jake Locker in Tennessee and Christian Ponder in Minnesota had a chance to be productive this season.


Not anymore, after the league's labor strife wiped out teams' offseason programs. So Warner isn't surprised to see those clubs pursuing veteran QBs.


But former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy isn't sure experienced quarterbacks will be able to make a quick adjustment to new systems, either.


Warner predicts a lot of miscommunication early in the season: receivers turning one way while quarterbacks throw the other; offensive linemen stepping in a different direction than their running back is cutting.


"So much of the NFL and even some great players is about reps and about getting out there and doing it," Warner said Wednesday. "Whether it's the physical part of it where you just get used to running around or running a route or dropping back and throwing. Or the mental side of it is seeing a play, hearing a play and being able to execute it.


"Everybody talks that, 'We don't like the OTAs; we don't like a long training camp.' But really when it's all about football, that's what really prepared us and gets us ready for the season."


Fellow former MVP Barry Sanders said it wouldn't be conditioning that caused players problems.


"You don't start working out when training camp starts; you start that long before," he said before the retired players took part in an event promoting the launch of the "Madden NFL 12" video game. "Now schemes, things like that you may see a difference."


This tighter window to prepare isn't unique to this preseason in some ways, the challenges facing teams now are a preview of future years, with the new labor deal reducing offseason organized team activities and practice during training camp.


"All of a sudden if you go from no hitting to the ferocity of the regular season very quickly, it will be interesting to see how that plays out," Dungy said, calling that abrupt transition his main worry.


And those rookies who will probably struggle to make an impact? That may not be limited to this season, since they'll have less time to learn their teams' systems under the new rules.


"What's going to happen is they're going to learn it during their rookie year and during their second year," Dungy said. "We're so impatient that we're going to say, 'Oh, they drafted this guy with the 10th pick in the draft and he's not playing. What's wrong? He's a bust.'


"He's not a bust. He just hasn't had enough time in the system, and we're going to have to wait until Year 2 on a lot of these rookies."


Dungy said teams with new coaches or coordinators were "at a huge disadvantage." He expects those staffs will lean especially heavily on veterans in the preseason.


So those players, expecting to see less of the field in exhibitions than in the past, may be in for a rude awakening to find it's just the opposite. These veterans will be hitting less in training camp under the new deal, but they may be taking more hits in preseason games.


The NFL prides itself on its competitive volatility from year to year making the playoffs one season is hardly a guarantee of a return trip the next. But continuity might count for a lot in the months after the lockout. Warner thinks the Packers, Steelers, Patriots and Saints find themselves in a nice situation.


"As we all know in the NFL, if you come out quickly it pays huge dividends because it's not a very long season," Warner said.


Said Dungy: "It may be a little easier to repeat than it has been in the past."



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