Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome has been one of the better talent evaluators in the NFL for a number of years, so when he talks, we'd all be wise to listen.
Newsome made an interesting comment to The Baltimore Sun this week about which players could be most hurt by a potential lockout.
"I think the group that could get hurt the most by the work stoppage is last year's draft class on all 32 teams," Newsome said."Because this is where they get the opportunity to start from March to go all the way to Game 1, to work with coaches, to work with strength coaches and get themselves better and become better football players."
It's something we hear from coaches, players and people around the league all the time: The biggest leap a player will make is from Year 1 to Year 2.
Last season, by my count, the Eagles had 15 different rookies active on at least one gameday (not including ones who only played in Week 17 against Dallas). And several of them figure to have prominent roles going forward.
Brandon Graham and Nate Allen of course are recovering from injuries, but should be starters when healthy. Graham may still rotate with other defensive linemen, but the point is he'll play a lot.
Jamar Chaney will likely compete for a starting linebacker's job, although it's unclear which one. And his role depends partly on what the Eagles do in free agency (if/when there is free agency) and the draft.
Keenan Clayton could battle for a linebacker's job too. I remember him telling me early last year that he was overwhelmed, but an offseason with the playbook should be helpful.
Kurt Coleman might be called on to start alongside Allen at safety if the Eagles don't re-sign Quintin Mikell. Remember, Coleman, an Ohio State product, got off to a late start last offseason because of NCAA rules.
Another player in the secondary, cornerback Trevard Lindley, could be in the mix for a starting job too, depending on how much progress he makes between his first and second seasons.
Then there are some fringe guys like Riley Cooper, who doesn't seem to have much of a chance to advance beyond the fourth receiver, unless there's an injury. And Clay Harbor, who could solidify his spot as the second tight end with an offseason spent working on his blocking.
While you'll hear many people say the offseason is unimportant and players won't care about a lockout until they start losing game checks, that's not entirely true.
Think about it. Graham earned the starting defensive end job at Lehigh (before eventually giving it back to Juqua Parker). Allen earned the starting free safety job. Coleman and Chaney earned roster spots.
This year, there will be a whole new group of rookies, perhaps even a couple that the Eagles count on to start at right cornerback or right guard in 2011. Try telling them that the offseason's not important. If there's a lockout that goes until August or September, what are the chances that those guys will be able to contribute as rookies? Not high.
As for the first year-to-second year jump, how relevant is it? Well, it was big for Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy. McCoy looked like a different player in 2010 after putting together a solid, but unspectacular, rookie season. And while Maclin exceeded expectations as a rookie, he clearly made important progress in his second season.
Then again, Macho Harris started at safety as a rookie and didn't even make the roster in his second season.
From 2008 to 2009, DeSean Jackson made a nice leap, although he was impressive as a rookie. However, the same could not be said for any of the other nine players the Eagles drafted with him, like Jack Ikegwuonu or Trevor Laws. Laws' improvement didn't come until his third season.
A lockout would mean unchartered territory for this group of players. Which ones will stay in shape? Which ones won't? Who will be most affected by the lack of one-on-one coaching? Who are the veteran leaders that will organize unofficial team gatherings? Will the Eagles be able to keep up or even get ahead of other teams?
The deadline's been extended for 24 hours, but at some point soon, we'll find out which of those questions, if any, need answers.
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