Lockout is hurdle for Cowboys rookies

5/4/2011 - NFL Dallas Cowboys

IRVING, Texas -- Not long after Tyron Smith finished a news conference and grabbed a bite to eat on Friday, he found himself in the middle of his first teaching session with offensive line coach/running game coordinator Hudson Houck.

Houck, Smith and one of Smith's agents, former NFL player Joe Panos, sat in the offensive line meeting room, going over the Dallas Cowboys' playbook. The grease-board session was about the basics of the Cowboys' blocking scheme and pass protections.

More than three hours later, Smith was in Houck's office, watching cut-ups of a practice as owner and general manager Jerry Jones put a bow on the second night of the NFL draft.

With the lockout lifted, the Cowboys were trying to steal some extra time with Smith. By the time they finished the classroom session, the lockout had been reinstituted and they were no longer able to communicate with their first-round pick.

Smith was the luckiest of the Cowboys' draft picks. At least he got to go home with a playbook. Second- and third-round picks Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray were able to meet with the media Saturday and say hello to their new coaches before having to board planes back home.

In a normal NFL offseason, the Cowboys' eight draft picks and players signed as undrafted free agents would be back at Valley Ranch this weekend for a rookie minicamp. Players learn the basics at the minicamp, from the base calls and formations on defense and offense to the tempo coach Jason Garrett uses at practice.

Most players return in the middle of May to take part in the offseason conditioning program and organized team activities.

By the time training camp rolls around they are in peak shape with an understanding of what the coaches want.

Because of the lockout, it could be months before they return.

On a team that finished 6-10 last season and needs immediate contributions from some of the rookies next season, it will be impossible to make up for the lost time.

"We're kind of in limbo here and we need to be nimble and understand what the rules are and work within those rules," Garrett said. "But you'd like to expose the young guys to some of the things we do systematically on the offensive and defensive side of the ball just to give them a chance when they come back and we do start playing football."

The Cowboys are banking on Smith starting at right tackle in 2011. The more he can learn between now and whenever the season begins, the better. The more he can do it with Houck, the better. The more he can be around the other players, the better.

For Carter, a linebacker, the transition to the NFL will be slowed not only by the lockout but also rehabilitation from knee surgery. He suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in November and is looking at a possible August return. He is working out under the watchful eye of North Carolina's athletic training staff, which includes one member who used to work for the Denver Broncos.

But that is not the same as having Cowboys associate athletic trainer Britt Brown, whom Jones calls one of the best in the league, running the rehab daily to have an idea about Carter's progression.

"You just have to stay positive and continue to work out and keep my rehab going and control what I can and just come in here and be as ready as I can," Carter said. "When I get here they will probably have a plan for me to continue on and hopefully get me on the field as fast as possible."

Other rookies -- such as Murray, cornerback Josh Thomas (who lives in Dallas), wide receiver Dwayne Harris and fullback Shaun Chapas -- have expressed the desire to begin working out in the Dallas area as soon as possible.

"It's definitely hard and puts you on the back burner," Murray said about the impact of the lockout. "You are not able to learn as much as you want to, but it is part of it and something you have to deal. It's something I have no control over so I will just keep working out and try to get around as many teammates as I can and try to learn from them."

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.