Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. How much can realistically be expected of rookies? With no rookie minicamps this offseason and no playbook exposure under the watch of coaches, my feeling is that expectations will be low among Patriots coaches when it comes to immediate impact for most picks, including first-round left tackle Nate Solder.
2. I think cornerback Ras-I Dowling and running back Shane Vereen are the draft picks in position to make the quickest impact, assuming good health.
3. The role of the strength coach figures to be under the spotlight when the lockout ends. One of the big keys for every team will be accurately assessing the condition of each player, and passing along that information so coaches can properly manage each player's situation. The Patriots are making the transition from Mike Woicik to Harold Nash in the head strength & conditioning spot.
4. Receiver Deion Branch told the Albany (Ga.) Herald that he envisions injuries will be on the rise post-lockout, and few around the NFL seem to disagree. While Logan Mankins was cited here as an example of a player who thrived despite missing training camp and the first seven games of a season, he is considered by many to be more of an exception than the rule. The common thinking, it seems, is that muscle pulls will be more prevalent.
5. Happy birthday, Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Law Firm turned 26 yesterday.
6. Things haven't gone as expected for 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, and he's scheduled to be a free agent when the lockout is lifted. Thus, it's interesting to read about how he's taken a leadership role in organizing 49ers teammates for informal workouts, even though the team told him a veteran quarterback could be coming in to compete for his job.
7. Read something like this about Buffalo Bills first-round pick Marcell Dareus (No. 3 overall), and he comes across as a humble, hard-working prospect who isn't about to change once he signs a contract.
9. Some like the Texans as a rising team in the AFC, and it makes sense based on some of the additions they've made on defense to complement an explosive offensive attack. One factor to keep in mind, though, is that the Texans match up against the NFC South and AFC North this year, which looks now like some of the NFL's top teams.
10. Bill Belichick usually opens training camp with a heavy dose of full-pads practices as part of acclimating players to contact. I anticipate this year being different, with more shorts and light shoulder pads early to ease players back into the mix.