Across the league, coaches have hailed the differences they see in their teams this spring, the result of having actual offseasons instead of lockout-inspired radio silence.
How much that absence impacted individual teams depends largely on how they fared (and whether they needed the excuse), but Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald mentions the Patriots draft class of 2010 dropped off en masse early last season.
“Yeah, you just see it’s a difference,” McCourty told Howe. “Last year, you’re on your own, feel like you’re working hard doing different things, but I just think it’s a better feeling when you can be with your teammates working on the things and working with the people that you actually do this sport with the most.
“During the season, you’re with the coaches and the players all the time, so just to be around those guys, be able to get their input on different things is key to any player’s development.”
McCourty might have been the prime example in New England.
After a strong rookie season, coaches asked much more of him last year, giving him less safety help and more man-to-man assignments. He struggled early, and admitted his own confidence (or lack thereof) was part of the problem.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes and defensive end Jermaine Cunningham were both sidelined for much of training camp with injuries, and while Spikes recovered to play well late in the season, Cunningham disappointed.
Would having OTAs and minicamp have made a difference? Impossible to know, but there was also enough anecdotal evidence on that roster to make you wonder.