Nine years ago, Ravens running back Mark Ingram was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the midst of an NFL lockout that extended into July of his rookie season.
Of course, those circumstances pale in comparison to the coronavirus pandemic that’s killed tens of thousands of Americans, drastically altered everyday life, and brought the sports world to a screeching halt indefinitely. But the three-time Pro Bowl selection can relate to the young players selected in next week’s draft not having the normal rookie development program, minicamps, and organized team activities to acclimate themselves to the NFL this spring.
All 32 teams are in the same boat with the current restrictions, but it’s quite a thought for a rookie to not yet be able to meet his coaches and new teammates in person, let alone know whether the 2020 season will take place as scheduled. First-year players in 2011 at least had the ability to work out with new teammates away from NFL facilities during the lockout, something from which Ingram benefited playing with a future Hall of Fame quarterback.
“That was definitely a challenge coming in in the lockout year,” said Ingram, who rushed for 474 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games his rookie season. “I got drafted, and essentially, my first day with the team officially was the first day of training camp. Actually, it was the second day of training camp. That’s something that will be difficult. The one good thing about it when I came in, Drew Brees would fly guys in and put them up, and we’d have kind of run-through practices just as players. But you can’t even do that right now.”
Having started 10 games as a 22-year-old rookie and blossoming into a Pro Bowl right tackle by his second season, 2018 third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. took advantage of a normal first offseason to get into better physical shape after a combine performance that drew much criticism and led to him falling in the draft. The Oklahoma product also began refining his skills working with offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, allowing the 6-foot-8, 355-pound lineman to successfully take over a starting role in mid-October of his first season.
Brown hopes remote communication can help fill in some of those gaps as much as possible, but it won’t be the same as being at the training facility in Owings Mills.
“I grew so much between OTAs and minicamp,” said Brown about his rookie experience. “Just being able to communicate with the guy next to you, to being able to ask your coach questions in person, to being able to walk through things, step through things, get the chemistry and the feel for the speed of the game. It’s going to be tough for a lot of rookies coming in just because they won’t have the opportunity to do those things.”
Unlike the 2011 rookies who couldn’t have contact with coaches and staff while owners and the union fought over a new collective bargaining agreement for months, this year’s class will have remote access and communication for both workouts and football meetings in place of the normal program.
Ingram is confident rookies and veterans will make the best of the current climate with bigger problems than football out there right now.
“I think the virtual aspect that they put in, I think that’ll be key for the learning curve of young players,” Ingram said. “It’s just a tough situation that we’re all dealing with — the entire world really. We all want to make it better. We want everyone to get healthy. These are the circumstances that we’re dealing with, so I think with the virtual thing — the Zoom stuff and all that — I think we’ll find ways to keep our young players up to speed.”