The NFL lockout could end next month or next year. No matter when it concludes, however, the Green Bay Packers have already canceled one of their most successful offseason events.
The time has come and gone for coach Mike McCarthy's renowned "quarterback school," an intensive and top-secret program designed to give his most important players a head start on the season. It's possible that a truncated version could be revived if the lockout ends soon, but McCarthy was already lamenting its demise last week at the NFL owners meeting.
"To me, March is the most important time of year for a young quarterback," McCarthy said. "March and April, I've always felt, is when you get your individual improvement. That opportunity has obviously gone by the wayside."
Most players weren't scheduled to return for the Packers' offseason program until next month, but absent a lockout, quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Graham Harrell would have been in a Lambeau Field classroom for the past three weeks. (McCarthy said he isn't sure if he would have asked starter Aaron Rodgers to attend every session.) Among other things, the quarterback school would have given Harrell the opportunity to develop and demonstrate enough progress to secure the No. 2 job if the Packers got a strong trade offer for Flynn, another product of the program.
I innocently asked McCarthy what happens at his quarterback school. He smiled and said, "That's top-secret stuff, man" before emphasizing that he follows all of the NFL's offseason rules for offseason player participation.
The concept began, McCarthy said, when he started as an NFL assistant in the early 1990s.
"Particularly in the old days, you draft a young quarterback and he goes and sits in a corner and he takes all the notes," he said. "Then all of a sudden you get to [the next] March, and they say, 'You know, I didn't want to ask a question in front of the other guys but I never knew what the hell you were talking about.' So and you're like, 'I just spent a year with this guy and he doesn't know the base protections.' That was a big moment for me personally when I was a position coach."
So on the first day of quarterback school, the Packers "go back to page one," McCarthy said. That means reviewing how to call for a huddle and moving from there. In recent years, McCarthy asked Rodgers to present some of the information as a way to mix it up and keep things interesting for a veteran group.
"Each year, as he goes through it, you try to eliminate some of the redundancies," McCarthy said, "but it's to give those young quarterbacks that chance to go back to square one every year. You learn the base protections, all the adjustments, I've been in the same offense since 1989, and I still learn something new each year. You're never too experienced or been in it long enough to not find a better way this year.
"Because today's game, it's just a big circle. The NFL is just a circle of adjustments, whether it's the 3-4, or whether it's the 4-3, whether you're spreading them out or running the ball. You really don't run new plays. There are so many great coaches and players that have come before us and you're just reinventing the stuff that have been done over history. You try to stay one step ahead of your opponents."
In McCarthy's world, the quickest way to that point is to have multiple quarterbacks who know what they're doing. The Packers should have that this year with or without a quarterback school. But as with the case of the Minnesota Vikings' pre-draft minicamp, the lockout has already eliminated an opportunity for further progress.