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Bills' coaches, young players losing valuable time

The National Football League owners and players took an advanced course in shadow boxing at the beginning of last week and there were no injuries. Neither was there any visible progress toward an actual 2011 season.

Since NFL training camps usually begin opening halfway through July and the combatants made no tangible progress in their Chicago and Boston short meetings, let's consider the sort of damage that could be done to an aspiring team -- say, the Buffalo Bills -- if the camps were wiped out and the first four games of any sort weren't played until September.

Buffalo's 2010 draftees, all but one of whom, running back C.J. Spiller, barely played as rookies, were ticketed for intense indoctrination into coach Chan Gailey's offseason workouts and the actual game-condition rehearsals in July and August. The owners' lockout erased the offseason work and still puts the exhibition rehearsals in danger. It's questionable whether the players would be in suitable game condition by Labor Day.

The offseason work and pretend games are where wide receiver Stevie Johnson made his mark as a coming star a year ago. Without the sort of attention Johnson received, how would a receiver like Marcus Easley, an outside linebacker like Arthur Moats and an offensive lineman like Ed Wang make their own marks in 2011?

For that matter, Gailey himself has had insufficient time to find out which of his untried players can truly play and which can't. From February to late June, the only football people with whom he's been dealing are his assistant coaches and scouts. That amounts to valuable lost time.

For instance, the Bills took an expensive gamble that Shawne Merriman, the one-time star linebacker for San Diego, would make a successful comeback from his injury and become a Buffalo asset. That full judgment may not be made until the regular season is about to begin, if there is a season. Gailey would be further handicapped.

Veteran players who are currently free agents remain in football limbo until the owners-players beef is settled. The Bills are in a similar position, not knowing where they stand with inside linebacker Paul Posluszny, safety Donte Whitner and cornerback Drayton Florence. It could turn out that untried rookies such as linebacker Kelvin Sheppard and defensive back Aaron Williams may have to play immediately, experienced or not.

There is little doubt the No. 1 pick, Marcell Dareus, will start from the get-go since he's already counted on to improve the defensive line.

It boggles the mind that all this lost time not used to assess the new and semi-new players could affect the Bills' ability to determine what they will need in the 2012 draft. Assuming they will not qualify for the No. 1 pick as the worst team in the league, they will not end up with a franchise quarterback. The only collegian currently deserving that title is Stanford's Andrew Luck, semi-assured to be the No. 1 pick in the next draft.

Unlike the last draft, the forecast is bubbling over with running backs. There also will be a pair of top-grade tight ends: Dwayne Allen of Auburn and Michael Egnew of Missouri. Too bad the Bills don't use premium picks for that position.

Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.

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