It is perhaps the most important question looming as we continue on in the Not-So-Great-Work-Stoppage of 2011. As the players continue to review the terms of the proposal put forth by the Owners and the negotiating teams working toward a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, valuable days are ticking away. Late-round draft picks and non-drafted rookies are seeing their chances for making rosters slip away. The importance of practice squads and of alert and aggressive player personnel departments will never be greater than in the season ahead.
And the coaches will be put squarely on the spot.
Andy Reid gathered his coaching staff at the NovaCare Complex on Saturday to discuss that very topic, among other things. A veteran group, they are in this thing together, and yet they are coming from very different worlds in their careers. While the offensive staff has largely been in place for years under coordinator Marty Mornhinweg -- line coach Howard Mudd, who joined the team only weeks after the 2010 season ended, is the exception -- the defense has an almost entirely new look and feel.
Collectively, there are not many coaching staffs in the NFL with as much experience or success. The Eagles have an excellent group in place and the extraordinary turn of events way back in the winter when they moved on from defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and replaced him with offensive line coach Juan Castillo and then surrounded Castillo with longtime defensive coaches Jim Washburn (defensive line) and Johnnie Lynn (cornerbacks) set the table for what the team believes to be a great group of teachers in place.
But it's impossible to teach if there are no players around. And for nearly five months, of course, that's been the landscape in the NFL.
Now the clock is ticking on just how much the coaches can teach the players. Washburn believes in a certain technique that is completely different than what Eagles linemen on the roster know. Same with Mudd. Before the coaching staff gets into X's and O's, they want to practice footwork and hand placement and technique with all of their players. The Eagles value every practice not simply to see how physical players are going to be, but to work on the subtle things that help a player work well within the system.
If training camp starts later this week, coaching staffs around the league have about two weeks to put together enough of a game plan for the players to take part in the first of four preseason games. It's almost a laughable amount of time. Players literally need to learn a foreign language in two weeks, and become pretty darn fluent in the verbiage.
How many false starts are we going to see? How many blown assignments?
Coaches need to adjust more than any group in the newfangled league of 2011. Voluminous playbooks are going to be really hard to feed to players who are going to have so little time to digest them. Maybe Mornhinweg feels differently with so many pieces of his offense returning, but it takes an entire orchestra to play a flawless concert, and there are going to be new pieces scattered here and there when the Eagles have the football.
A game that has become so situational over the years -- the nickel cornerback, the Joker position on defense, the slot receiver, the third-down running back -- may have to dumb things down just a bit to allow players to perform capably with such a quick turnaround from the open of practices to the start of the preseason games.
All we can do is wait it out as innocent bystanders and hope the accord is reached and the CBA is signed, sealed and delivered by every side and that the players get to their respective training camps as quickly as possible. The veterans probably think they don't need a whole lot of time to prepare for the season, and in some cases that may be true. For many, many others, the time lost is never going to be regained, and player performances and the quality of the game is going to be negatively portrayed.