Two dozen franchises — including the Green Bay Packers — commence their mandatory minicamp practices on Tuesday. For much of a league prepared to go into semi-hibernation until the official opening of training camps late next month, the three-day sessions are an important time. With last year's lockout and resulting compressed schedule, there is some agreement in the NFL that rarely have the minicamps been more significant.
Indeed, for many, there is nothing "mini" about them.
"The OTAs are great, especially since we didn't have them last year, but (the minicamps) really ramp things up," acknowledged Seattle coach Pete Carroll. "Sure, everyone is thinking about the down-time that comes after ... but it sort of gets your head back into the football (mode) again."
Said one coach whose mandatory minicamp doesn't begin until next week: "It's kind of the two-minute warning that football is coming. You know, like, 'Get the vacation out of the way and start preparing (for camp.) It gets your attention in a way the (OTAs) probably don't. It sort of starts the countdown (for 2012)."
In an NFL calendar relatively shy of action, except for the warp-speed negotiation of rookie contracts and a couple of looming free agent-related deadlines, this week arguably represents the busiest time for the league since the end of the draft a little more than six weeks ago. Two clubs, Cleveland and New Orleans, have completed mandatory minicamps, and six more teams won't convene until next week. For 75 percent of the league, however, this week is a key one.
"Lots of work to be done," allowed Washington's Mike Shanahan, who will be breaking in a new starting quarterback for a third straight year. Most coaches would concur with that, and with the widely held notion that minicamps, even with their incongruous positioning just before vacation time, augurs the start of work.
Peyton Manning has been working out in Denver, but the on-field acclimation with his new teammates and coaches will be ratcheted up some on Tuesday.
Manning's replacement, top overall draft choice Andrew Luck, will be able to participate in the Colts' most formal workouts until training camp, after missing OTAs because of the rule that precluded him from practicing until the Stanford academic term ended.
As good as he was as a rookie, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton should benefit from the initial June minicamp of his career.
The remade Pittsburgh offensive line, with only two starters back at the same positions they played a year ago, will be able to begin working in projected rookie starters David DeCastro and Mike Adams, at right guard and left tackle, respectively, after the two missed all of the OTAs because of the same rule that kept Luck out until this week. Three or four teams that begin minicamps on Tuesday figure to have new quarterbacks.
Perhaps most notably, all of the NFL's new coaches, three of them first-timers, will start their team's minicamps on Tuesday morning.
Said Greg Schiano of Tampa Bay: "I think it's a next step everyone really looks forward to taking."
And that doesn't only take into account the players or coaches who are making their debuts in the league. The NFLPA was careful to include in last summer's CBA some safeguards against overzealous practices, rules about contact, guidelines regarding the number of offseason workouts permissible and the intensity levels of each. The moves were good ones, particularly in a climate that emphasizes safety. But even with the restrictions, there isn't much denying among veteran players that the offseason regimens of the past had reached a comfort-zone level.
Certainly, that was disrupted last year with the lockout, and a guy like John Fox of the Broncos is looking forward to Tuesday not only because of Manning's presence in the Denver huddle, but because he had no minicamp last season. The argument over whether the absence of minicamps in 2011 had any bearing on the quality of the game can be debated.
"But," said Fox, "I do think we missed minicamps (in 2011)."
Which might suggest that, for many people in the game, this year's minicamps will take on maximum importance.
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Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.