It’s a truly bizarre year in professional football when a head coach decides against giving his new rookies the playbook, but that’s exactly how Jim Schwartz is handling the NFL lockout, and it’s the right way to go.
I can’t honestly say I’ve followed the terms of the lockout closely (though Zac has you covered on that) — mostly because I can’t listen to millionaires bicker with billionaires without having blood shoot out my ears — but I do know that Schwartz and the Lions had a brief window of opportunity to bring in Nick Fairley and the other rookies, show them the facilities, and let them grab a copy of the playbook. Wait, scratch that last bit:
When first-round pick Nick Fairley came to town for his introductory news conference last week, he spent some time inside the Lions’ practice facility watching tape and taking notes on the new scheme.
Fairley left without a playbook. Lions coach Jim Schwartz said the team didn’t try to overload its draftees with information in the brief window it was allowed to communicate with them.
Schwartz isn’t alone in doing this, and his reasoning is sound: Handing a 22-year-old an NFL playbook and expecting him, even with the help of teammates, to pick up on the minutiae required to fully grasp and master the team’s scheme will likely do as much harm as good. Teams sit through hours upon hours of meetings and film study and work endlessly on the same basic techniques so they are all on the same page, but without organized team activities and the ability to have a coaching staff oversee the proceedings, this can’t be done until the NFL resolves its labor dispute.
The truth is, Jim Schwartz shouldn’t have to worry about Nick Fairley. He’s a defensive tackle, he’ll be playing alongside Ndamukong Suh, and the Lions have a deep and experienced group of defensive linemen. This team could likely get away with throwing Fairley on the field, never telling him the play, and letting him run wild in opposing backfields (okay, this is a slight stretch, but you get my point).
Titus Young and Mikel Leshoure should handle this transition fine as well — Young projects as a third receiver who will mostly be utilized to stretch the field (aka run, Titus, run), while Leshoure won’t be forced to learn too many pass routes and protections right off the bat because Detroit has Jahvid Best to handle those duties. I’ll be strongly encouraged if they seek out current Lions and begin the learning process independently, but Schwartz maintains — and I agree — that the biggest priority for Detroit’s new crop of talent is to get into the best shape possible.
The playbooks will come, and with them an actual NFL season, and all 32 teams will start practice on (relatively) even footing. For the rookies, those who see the field — on all teams — will be the players who best prepared themselves physically for the NFL game. The Lions will unleash Fairley alongside what was already one of the strongest interior D-lines in the league, and by the start of the season he should know enough plays to wreak havoc if he spends the offseason getting into the best shape of his life, like every NFL rookie should. Jim Schwartz is smart not to over-complicate things, and I think we’ll see the benefits whenever this year’s rookie class sees the field.