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Rookies learning on the fly; Dareus only newcomer atop the depth chart

Lost in the NFL's 4 1/2 -month-lockout is the fact that the league's rookies were unable to ease into the profession with the help of OTAs and minicamps.

So without the advantage of an offseason's worth of training, first-year players are receiving huge doses of the speed and intricacies of the pro game in training camp, making an already complicated transition all the more overwhelming.

It's a crash course in NFL 101.

"Right now, guys are getting things dumped on them at once," said former Bills linebacker Darryl Talley, who spent most of last week at the team's training camp at St. John Fisher. "Everyone feels like a rookie at once."

But the Bills' veterans, in their second season under coach Chan Gailey, have the benefit of a year in the system while the rookies don't have that luxury.

"It gets the guys together so they can have a sort of cohesiveness with themselves," Talley said. "They get to learn one another: 'Can he do this? Can he not do that?' Those are the things you get to find out. You get to learn the installation of what you're going to be doing. It's definitely beneficial for rookies. It's beneficial for anybody coming into a new place."

Around the league, eight teams changed head coaches since last season, including John Fox in Denver, Hue Jackson in Oakland, Mike Munchak in Tennessee and Pat Shurmur in Cleveland. In those cases neither the vets nor rookies had the advantage of a standard offseason to adjust.

"You find the second time around is smoother in terms of the teaching progression," secondary coach George Catavolos said. "One thing you learn over the years is that you have to adjust."

And while it may be easier for the veterans because of familiarity, the Bills were 4-12 in 2010 and the drafted rookies -- especially on defense -- were added to help improve the team's fortunes. But a week into training camp at St. John Fisher only one rookie sits atop the depth chart at his position: Top pick defensive end Marcell Dareus. Perhaps a traditional offseason may have changed things.

"With OTAs, the younger players are in a position to legitimately compete for a job with the veterans because you like to hope they've caught up from a learning process," inside linebacker coach Dave Wannstedt said. "The physical part, there's something to having someone set up your workout, monitor your workout as compared to everyone saying, 'We're going to do it ourselves.' "

During the second day of training camp none of the Bills top three picks -- Dareus, Aaron Williams and Kelvin Sheppard -- finished practice because of injury and Sheppard, a linebacker, remains out. Perhaps the injuries could have been avoided with a proper strength and conditioning program which are provided during OTAs. The offseason exposes rookies to the system in a setting that's not as intense as training camp. There's more teaching, more reps.

Williams, a cornerback, started training camp out strong but as the veteran receivers adjusted to his tendencies, he soon found out he wasn't playing in the Big 12 anymore.

"I'm not used to getting beat this much," said Williams, who was drafted out of Texas. "Everybody on the team is good so you have issues and problems you go back to the basics and see what you did wrong, go back to the film, and do it all over again."

Even Dareus who competed in the SEC, the nation's top conference, was surprised with the tempo at the pro level.

"Everyday at practice you see the intelligence of the linemen and quarterbacks, just to be able to think off the top of your head and it's a lot faster than I thought it would be," he said.

The Bills added some veteran insurance when they re-signed cornerback Drayton Florence and signed linebacker Nick Barnett as a free agent, but the rookies are being counted to contribute sooner or later. Dareus is looked to for immediate impact. Williams and Sheppard can be brought along slowly.

"We have a bunch of young guys and they get a chance to watch us work," linebacker Shawne Merriman said. "It's a lot of learning going on, but we're still learning too."

email: rmckissic@buffnews.com