Short offseason tough for young QBs

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Although there is no lockout this year, the three younger starting quarterbacks in the NFC South are facing some unique offseason hurdles.

Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith said Monday at the owners meetings he wishes quarterback Matt Ryan already was working with new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Prior to the lockout, offseason programs used to start in mid-March. But the collective-bargaining agreement signed last summer changed the rules for offseason programs.

Ryan and the Falcons can’t start their offseason program until April 16. It’s the same for the Carolina Panthers and second-year quarterback Cam Newton. At least Newton will be playing in the same offense he was in last season with coordinator Rob Chudzinski. But Newton had no offseason program last season and will face a shorter one than teams had in the past.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Josh Freeman catches a bit of a break because league rules allow teams with new coaches to start their offseason programs two weeks earlier than other teams. The Bucs have a new coach in Greg Schiano and Freeman will have to quickly digest a new offense with coordinator Mike Sullivan.

Although the New Orleans Saints face an uncertain future with coach Sean Payton scheduled to begin a suspension April 1, they should have an advantage in this area. They’ve got a veteran quarterback in Drew Brees, assuming he signs his franchise tender or agrees to a new contract before the offseason program starts. Payton built one of the league’s most prolific offenses and Brees has mastered it. No matter who is acting as head coach of the Saints, the offensive system isn't likely to change at all and the shortened offseason shouldn’t present as much of a challenge as it does for Ryan, Freeman and Newton.