If you haven't yet, you should read Paul Kuharsky's piece this morning on the claims by several NFL coaches that the quality of 2011 play will suffer for their inability to work with their players during the offseason. Kuharsky posits the idea that 'simpler' football might not, in every case, equal "worse" football. Paul's a Jersey guy and therefore extremely wise, and I love it when people call out super-serious coaches and other NFL types for being overly dramatic about the game. So I enjoyed it.
It did bring to mind two conversations I had last offseason with two defensive coordinators -- Dom Capers of the Packers and Jim Haslett of the Redskins. Capers changed the Green Bay defense in 2009 from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and told me in an interview during last year's minicamp that he expected to see a radical improvement in his second season, because it takes two years for players who'd been playing a 4-3 to really learn and grasp 3-4 concepts.
Then in training camp I interviewed Haslett, who was in the process of switching the Redskins to a 3-4. He said then that he expected it to take two years to fully install the defense, since it was new to the guys and some might not be perfect fits. The way the Packers and Redskins played in 2010-11 made both of these coaches look pretty smart for saying that, and so I wonder about the Redskins and whether they might be particularly vulnerable to a wiped-out offseason program.
When they put in the 3-4 last offseason, Haslett and Shanahan were surely counting on this offseason as a critical one for making sure their defense and their defensive players took the next step. If they're not able to get in front of those players before August or September, the changeover to the 3-4 could conceivably suffer a major setback. If it truly does take two years to make the switch, the lockout and the resulting period of inactivity could mean, for Haslett and the Redskins, that it ends up taking two and a half or three years.
So while in general I agree with Kuharsky's point, I think there are probably cases in which the missed practice time could cost certain specific teams, players and coaches more than others. The Redskins' defense may well turn out to be such a case.