Commentary

Welcome to the preseason

NFL teams are way behind entering Week 1; here's why, who it hurts (and helps)

Updated: September 9, 2011, 12:25 PM ET
By Trent Dilfer | ESPN Insider
Mark Sanchez & Rex RyanAlan Maglaque/US PresswireMark Sanchez may be in sync with his coach, but now he adds several new WRs.

Just imagine entering a golf tournament without hitting the driving range for three and half months. Imagine taking a college-level exam without studying for the length of a semester. People who haven't been there think this sounds preposterous, like a classic overstatement or a sound bite -- all for effect. But it's the reality of what NFL training camps were like on Day 1. It's why this September really is, in some ways, the preseason.

By now you've probably read Aaron Rodgers' comments about offseason work after his team put up 42 points in Thursday night's NFL opener, but he's not speaking for most players. Rodgers is right to some degree -- and it sure helps when you maintain so much personnel continuity from a team that played into February -- but there are plenty of teams in this year's NFL that will absolutely be hurt by the diminished practice time. But we'll get to them later. Let me break down the offseason stuff a little more.

People dismiss offseason OTAs as some kind of extra seasoning for the guys who need it, or even less, a chance to meet rookies, learn names and build a little camaraderie. That couldn't be further from the truth. Offseason work can easily consist of three-and-half months of preparation, at about four hours a day.

It starts with an NFL maxim guys often repeat at this time of year to describe the progress: "Seeing it, knowing it, owning it."

• The seeing is about digesting the concepts of the playbook and scheme for the first time.

• The knowing is an understanding of where those concepts, plays and schemes apply to you; it's that growing sense of where you have to be.

• The owning is the place where instincts take over. There are plays, and there are defensive sets designed to put you in the right place, but the player must be able to know where he can successfully improvise and play to his strengths within each scheme.

In that see-know-own progression, the offseason period can get you much closer to the third step. Instead, players and coaches are feeling far behind. Beyond the sense of knowledge, here is the meat of the pre-camp process:

Former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer is an analyst for a variety of ESPN programs including NFL Live, NFL PrimeTime and SportsCenter (Sunday and Monday nights during the NFL season). He also contributes to Monday Night Countdown, ESPN Radio programs, and ESPN's annual Super Bowl week and NFL Draft coverage.