One fairly common misconception about the 2011 NFL lockout is that it negatively affected the development of just one draft class. In fact, it stunted the growth not just of players drafted in 2011, but also the year prior in 2010.
It's one thing for a rookie to miss out on pre-training camp team activities, as they're behind in the classroom as well as in each team's strength program. The latter disadvantage applies to 2010 draftees, who even though they had a year under their belts last summer still had not had the benefit of an entire off-season in an NFL strength program and team activities.
As such, this OTA season, second- and third-year players stand to benefit from this type of off-season work much more than a player in their situation typically would. After the jump, let's talk about the five Buffalo Bills players entering either their second or third pro season that stand to benefit the most from the work the team is putting in right now.
5. DT Alex Carrington. Entering his third season as a former defensive end standout at Arkansas State, Carrington hasn't been more than a role player in his first two pro seasons, showing strength but no significant play-making ability while picking up a sack in each season. Originally drafted as an eventual starter as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4, the 6'5", 301-pound Carrington is now a defensive tackle in Dave Wannstedt's 4-3 scheme. A powerful athlete with solid athleticism, Carrington will benefit greatly not just from getting his feet wet in the new scheme (at a new position), but in the intensive film study and time with the coaches that he missed out on last summer.
4. WR Donald Jones. Yes, Jones was one of several receivers that spent time at "Camp Fitz" in Arizona during last year's lockout. He came into camp in good shape and, thanks to a pre-season trade, wound up an opening-day starter. It was mostly downhill from there, however, as Jones struggled to get in sync with his quarterback and his coach, and then he landed on IR with an injury. This year, Jones will get the benefit of another spring/summer of work with his quarterback, and he'll hopefully be better prepared to avoid injury. Most of all, however - and this will be a theme throughout this post - Jones stands to benefit from more focused film study and one-on-one time with the coaches.
3. OT Chris Hairston. Hairston came into the league regarded as a supremely intelligent player, which aided him in keeping his head above water as a part-time rookie starter. With more focused film study in position meetings, Hairston should quickly pick up the various stunts and blitzes he's likely to see. Ideally, time spent in the team's strength and conditioning program will help him build lower body strength and better proportions, as well. He's in line for a big summer, even if he doesn't necessarily profile as a starter.
2. RB C.J. Spiller. A full off-season program might have helped Spiller not only get off to a faster start in his second season, but may have helped Chan Gailey find better and more comfortable ways to utilize Spiller while he was playing second fiddle to Fred Jackson. Film study will be big for Spiller this summer, as he's still polishing up his blocking and learning how to set up tacklers at the second level. Forgetting about opportunity for a second, Spiller has a chance to emerge as a well-rounded back this year thanks to his first full off-season program.
1. LB Kelvin Sheppard. As we discussed over the weekend, Wannstedt told reporters last week that Sheppard came into his rookie training camp 20 pounds overweight, got hurt right away, and couldn't get into the lineup nearly as quickly as the team likely was planning for. Now, Wannstedt says Sheppard is in shape, is studying film like a mad man, and should quickly pick up the entirety of the team's new 4-3 scheme. If the strength program helps his durability out a bit, Sheppard has a chance to emerge as the de facto "quarterback" of the defense this year - which is exactly what the Bills want him to be.