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New coaching hires facing new problem

Cleaning out the notebook from last week's coaches breakfast at the NFL owners meetings in New Orleans:

The NFL lockout is making this a difficult offseason for head coaches. It's even harder for those in their first year on the job.

Tennessee's Mike Munchak and Oakland's Hue Jackson were with their organizations last year, but never ran their own teams. Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco), Ron Rivera (Carolina) and Pat Shurmur (Cleveland) are new faces in new places.

Minnesota's Leslie Frazier and Dallas' Jason Garrett served as interim coaches in 2010 before becoming permanent hires after the season, while John Fox comes to Denver after nine seasons as the head man in Carolina.

What all eight men face is trying to rebuild struggling teams without knowning when they'll be able to implement their plan.

"It's given us a little disadvantage," Rivera said. "You want to have the team around and your veteran guys so you get a sense or a feel for what they do. There will always be a learning curve and now it's steeper."

"That's a little bit of a challenge, but I think all of us are going through it," Shurmur added. "I just think we have to deal with it as it happens. I think worrying about it will only add the anxiety to it."

The work stoppage will make it more challenging for offensive and defensive coordinators to install new schemes and terminologies. They can get a feel for personnel from watching film, though it's not the same as being able to teach players the system on the field and in the classroom.

The Broncos, for example, are going back to the 4-3 defense after two years in the 3-4 under former coach Josh McDaniels. But Fox doesn't believe getting the players up to speed will be as hard as people think.

"I had a chance to meet our players early on," he said. "I've watched plenty of tape. I think system-wise offensively we're not much different since our offensive coordinator from a year ago will be back again. Defensively we've got some [coaches] back, but there's no doubt we've got an adjustment as we go 4-3. But these things are not rocket science."

Harbaugh, who played quarterback for 14 years in the NFL, is making the coaching transition from college to the pros. He said the rookie coaching class will adjust to the uncertain offseason.

"I just love being in uncharted waters," he said. "There is something about it. There's more of a challenge to it."

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Teams can invite up to 30 college players to their facility for private workouts and interviews. Coach Chan Gailey said the Bills probably won't bring that many in, but added it's not the number of visits that matters as much of the quality. Gailey believes meeting with players face to face is a value tool in player evaluations.

"There are two things that you're looking for," said Gailey, who is scheduled to meet with Auburn quarterback Cam Newton on Monday. "One, to see how they handle themselves in public, around new people. The other thing is we get a lot more time with them to find out about their football knowledge. What did they get prepped on for the 15-minute interview at the combine versus what do they really know. Because if you can sit down with a guy for 45 minutes to an hour or an hour and 15 minutes, you can really find out about the guy and how much he can retain.

"A couple of our visitors were guys we had at the Senior Bowl and we sort of knew about them, so we wanted to be around them maybe in a more social setting than we did in a formal coach-player setting."

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With quarterback Carson Palmer threatening retirement if he isn't traded, is Cincinnati leaning towards drafting a new signal-caller? Bengals owner Mike Brown apparently is willing to call Palmer's bluff, but coach Marvin Lewis may be open to other options. The Bengals have the fourth overall pick and it wouldn't be a shock if they took Newton or Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, if available.

"I believe we have to make sure not necessarily at QB as much as get the right value at that pick," Lewis said. "If it's a QB or that player. We're going to do our due diligence."

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When John Elway was hired as the Broncos' vice president of football operations, some people wondered if owner Pat Bowlen was making a PR move by bringing the franchise's greatest player back in the fold. Fox shot down any notion that Elway is nothing more than a figurehead.

"John, he's not some hood ornament by any stretch, he's in there grinding," Fox said. "He doesn't know the ins and outs of the National Football League, but spending all the time he did in the huddle, the leader on that side of the ball, I think he recognizes a football player when he sees him."

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New England's Bill Belichick was the no-show at the coaches breakfast last Tuesday. Perhaps he thought he fulfilled his obligation after talking to the media briefly the day before.

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh took advantage of Belichick's absence to poke some fun at the Boston media.

"Is that why all the Boston guys are coming over here and wandering aimlessly around the room asking about the Patriots?" Harbaugh said. "Do you feel like you're being stood up? You're like the guy sitting at his table looking at his watch, reading the paper. You got stood up."

Gailey, whose table was next to Belichick's, was ready when a Boston reporter asked him about former Bills defensive end Marcus Stroud, who signed with the Patriots.

"Ask Bill. He'll know," Gailey said with a smile.

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Reggie Bush's future in New Orleans was thought to be in peril, but Saints coach Sean Payton expects the running back to return in 2011. For that to happen, Bush will have to take a significant pay cut from the $11.8 million he is due this season.

Bush's market value is diminished greatly because he hasn't lived up to his status as the No. 2 pick in the 2006 draft. Once the lockout ends, Payton is confident Bush and the Saints can agree to a restructured deal.

"I think [Bush has] got a pretty good grasp of the economy and where he's at," Payton said.

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a candidate for the HBO series "Hard Knocks." They don't have the cast of characters that the New York Jets brought to the show last year. But the Bucs are a young, up-and-coming team with a promising quarterback in Josh Freeman, a rising star receiver in Buffalo's Mike Williams and a charismatic coach in Raheem Morris.

Some teams won't do "Hard Knocks" because of concerns it might be a distraction. But the Jets reached their second straight AFC title game last season and the Bengals won the AFC North when they did the show in 2009.

"There's a bunch of positives and some negatives," Morris said. "Anytime you're asked to be on Hard Knocks, that means there's interest in your team. We'll have to see."

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com