Around this time a year ago, Buffalo Bills players were a constant presence at the team's training facility. The offseason conditioning program was underway and Chan Gailey was gearing up for his first season as coach.
Times sure have changed.
Today, there are no players to be found at One Bills Drive or any other team headquarters in the NFL because of the lockout imposed by the owners. No collective bargaining agreement means no football.
The league may be at a standstill because of the labor dispute, but there is no work stoppage with Gailey and his coaching staff. They are still doing the same job as if there wasn't a lockout.
"We spend the morning on football and then we spend the afternoon getting our college stuff ready for the draft," Gailey said Tuesday during the NFL coaches breakfast at the Roosevelt Hotel. "That stuff will be ready by April 7. We have a lot of little projects. We look at the best third-down teams, what they do. We look at our division opponents, what they do. Who is the best rushing team, the best red-zone team. You just go through and evaluate that.
"If coaches are nothing else, we're flexible. We have to be able to adjust. We adjust to the seasons, we adjust to games, we adjust all the time. That's what we do. You just handle it."
With the possibility of a prolonged lockout, some NFL teams are tightening their fiscal belt. The Bills are among at least a dozen teams that are cutting coaches' pay. That money will be reimbursed if no regular-season games are lost.
With a smaller paycheck and no idea if they'll have anything to do this season, it would be understandable if coaches weren't in the best mood. But Gailey said there are no morale problems with his assistants because they have known what was coming for some time.
"It's not like it hit them out of the blue," he said. "I will give our organization a great deal of credit. They prepared our staff from way back about 'this could happen, this is what will happen if it does happen, this is where we're going, we'll get through it.'
"I'm going to give our organization a great deal of credit for not keeping anyone in the dark about what's happening. Coaches are naturally optimistic. Everybody thinks they are going to win every year. So we're naturally optimistic about this. I know my staff is pretty optimistic about it. When [the new CBA] gets done it gets done and we'll go to work."
Gailey said the only complication is the uncertainty of whether there will be a free agency period before the draft. If the players win their lawsuit against the owners in Minnesota federal court on April 6, it could end the lockout and free agency could begin at any time.
Gailey said the Bills will be ready whenever teams are allowed to sign free agents.
"It always worked to your advantage to kind of know going into the draft if you had some areas shored up or not," he said. "We're sort of in a limbo as far as that decision goes. But [Bills General Manager] Buddy [Nix] is ready to go. We've made the evaluations, we know where we are, what we want to do, what direction we want to go."
For now, the focus is on the draft next month. The Bills have plenty of areas to upgrade, most notably the defensive front seven. But the only position the media wanted to talk about was quarterback.
Gailey reiterated his faith in Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter, adding that Fitzpatrick gives the Bills the option of addressing another need. But Gailey also repeated what he has for weeks, that the team will strongly consider taking a quarterback with the third overall pick.
"Any time you have the opportunity to get a guy to take you to the Super Bowl for 10 or 12 years, you've got to take a long, hard look at the thing if you believe that," Gailey said. "You've got to believe that in your heart of hearts and you've got to make that thing happen. And if you don't, where we sit right now is we've got Ryan who we really believe in and trust."
Auburn's Cam Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert are the top two quarterbacks in the draft. Without giving away his preference, Gailey spoke highly of both players while adding that there are several other good quarterbacks in the draft.
"I can tell you right now there is no question they have outstanding skill sets. Both of them," Gailey said of Newton and Gabbert. "Not average. Not above average. Outstanding."
Despite their upside, Newton and Gabbert are considered as risks because both are transitioning from a spread college offense to more complex NFL formations and terminology.
This begs the question of how a team weighs taking a so-called risk over someone like Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller or Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who are considered safer options.
"If it's not obvious to everybody, then you better have a pretty good feel that this is the right direction to go because you can't assume that you know something nobody else does," Gailey said. "But if you do know it, then don't be afraid to make the decision. So you've got to decide with this guy is the risk worth what you're going to get out of him somewhere down the line?"
Nix has attended the Pro Days of Newton and Gabbert as well as other top prospects. But Gailey chooses to stay in Buffalo, where players are being flown in to meet with the coaches.
"I don't get anything out of that to be honest with you," he said of Pro Days. "Especially with the quarterbacks, it has become such a production. I'd much rather watch the tape, run it back, run it back, run it back. The guys that we're really interested in we're going to bring in and I'm going to sit down and have a good conversation with them."
Gailey touched on a couple of other topics during his one-hour chat:
He said wide receiver Lee Evans, who put up career-low numbers last season, needs to get more consistent running routes. Gailey also wants to expand the type of routes Evans is asked to run.
"He's been more of a deep threat," Gailey said. "I've got to get him to do a better job of becoming an underneath threat. I've got to do a better job of that."
On outside linebacker Aaron Maybin, Gailey pulled no punches in saying Maybin needs to get better in all aspects of his game to live up to his potential. Gailey added that it is not his job to light a fire under the 2009 first-round disappointment.
"We provide a spark, but he's got to get his own fire going," Gailey said. "I always talk to the guys about this is where we are, this is where we want to be and this is how we get to it. Individually, guys have to do that. This is where I am, this is where I want to be, now how do I get there? And we tell him all the time how to get there. But he's got to do it. Talking's over. You got to go get it done. You either do it or you don't."