Lockout losers: rookies and new coaches
The first-round draft choice from Missouri took advantage of a one-day, court-ordered window in the NFL's lockout of the players to visit with Jacksonville's coaching staff. He also was given the equivalent of a pro football bible, and immediately began studying the playbook, even if he couldn't put it to use on a field.
"It's great to have it and I've already gotten into it a lot," Gabbert said soon after going 10th overall in the draft. "But I don't have any teammates right now to run through the plays with."
With minicamps and offseason workouts normally occurring in early and mid-May, Gabbert and his fellow rookies are among the most obvious losers as the lockout heads toward a third month.
"If this goes into June," 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon said, "I've had coordinators tell me you could pretty much write off the first year for these rookies.
"The coaches want to install as much as they can in minicamps, see what the new players can retain, then have them come back for other minicamps and offseason workouts, so by the time they get to training camps, they have seen what they need to do a few times.
"If the first time they do any of that is in training camp, that's not going to get it done."
In federal court papers filed Monday, the league argued the situation would be even more damaging and chaotic if the lockout was lifted without a new collective bargaining agreement. NFL attorneys predicted the better-off teams would sign a disproportionate number of the best players, wrecking the league's competitive balance.
All this time off isn't doing much good, either.
Among the teams at the biggest disadvantage are those with new coaching staffs: the 49ers">49ers, Panthers and Broncos, although at least Denver's new head coach, John Fox, brings plenty of experience - and victories - from Carolina.
Jim Harbaugh has been coaching, quite successfully, at Stanford and now is in San Francisco, where he's barely gotten to know some of his players. Ron Rivera, a longtime defensive coordinator elsewhere, now is in Charlotte, taking over the NFL's worst team.
Both could use lengthy, in-depth discussions with their players, and long looks on the practice field at them.
"This is just a critical time, and the longer this goes on, the more it benefits teams like Green Bay and New England," said Gannon, who hosts a show on Sirius NFL Radio and also is an analyst for CBS. "Those teams with of continuity with the coaching staff and quarterback position and coordinators.
"But teams have to be sweating bullets. This is valuable time. Some of these young teams are going through so much change and they could be utilizing it and they are not allowed."
At least the Vikings (Leslie Frazier) and Cowboys (Jason Garrett) played a few games when their current coaches were serving in an interim capacity last season. Oakland's Hue Jackson was the team's offensive coordinator in 2010, and Mike Munchak has been with the Titans for 14 seasons. While Pat Shurmur is new in Cleveland, Browns president Mike Holmgren took over last year and knows his way around the West Coast offense Shurmur will install - whenever he gets the chance.
Some players have been doing their part to remain familiar with their team's systems, holding informal workouts away from club facilities. But without minicamps and OTAs, they can't emulate the pace of even an NFL practice.
They can only do so much.
"It's a good head start for guys," said Browns tight end Evan Moore, who joined several teammates in Austin, Texas, to work with quarterback Colt McCoy. "Who knows if we will have any kind of offseason at all? If we have to head to training camp, you need to have a good feel for the little things you need to know. And the coaches will appreciate it, too, that guys are prepared."
How prepared, though? Not nearly enough for a Gabbert to have a quick impact in Jacksonville. Or for top overall selection Cam Newton to move smoothly into Carolina's lineup. Or for Jake Locker in Tennessee, Christian Ponder in Minnesota, Andy Dalton in Cincinnati or Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco - all taken in the first 36 picks - to be much of a factor in 2011, Gannon says.
"You've got to say to yourself, these guys have got no chance this season," Gannon said. "I feel bad for Cam Newton, who has a lot to learn as it is, and he does not have the benefit of quarterbacks school or minicamps or OTAs or getting in with his offensive coordinator, Rob Chudzinski, and asking questions.
"It's a really bad environment for those guys. They're really losing in this thing."