If this were a normal NFL offseason, the Steelers would gather Friday for a three-day minicamp during which draftees and rookie free agents would practice and study alongside veterans.
The newcomers would leave Pittsburgh overwhelmed, as rookies do, following a crash course in Steelers football. But they would have a foundation from which the players and coaches could build.
Because of the labor impasse, rookies might not practice with their teams until training camp just weeks before the season opener, adding to the difficulty for those hoping to contribute or simply make a 53-man roster.
"The young guys, it's going to be a struggle for them and a struggle for me, too, trying to catch them up," Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said.
Teams soon could get a better idea how much practice there will be this offseason. An appeals court in St. Louis could rule as early as today to uphold or lift a stay of an injunction that briefly ended the lockout.
Until this week, coaches could direct their energy toward the draft. With an uncertain future, they could be idle when they normally would be busy teaching.
Teams typically are allowed one mandatory minicamp -- exceptions are granted for teams with a new head coach -- and 14 voluntary practices called organized team activities. The Steelers hold most of these practices in May and the first two weeks of June.
Hines Ward, James Farrior and Troy Polamalu don't need OTAs. Cameron Heyward, Marcus Gilbert and Curtis Brown, the Steelers' top three picks in this year's draft, do.
"We give (rookies) a whole bunch of stuff early, then we kind of spread it out in OTAs, and then in training camp it's spread out a little bit more," Butler said. "But it's re-taught to them three times (before the first preseason game), and they have a lot better chance of grasping it if we can do it in that manner."
Agent Ken Staninger described the situation as possibly being "a lost draft, other than (for) the elite-elite."
"The quarterbacks and offensive linemen and wide receivers, these young guys, can you imagine? With no minicamps and no OTAs, if they show up Aug. 1 to training camp, they're going to be so lost," Staninger said. …