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“How much sloppier can it get?” said Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, a plaintiff in the antitrust lawsuit that 10 players filed against the NFL on March 11. “You look at the first couple games of the preseason, even when we have minicamps and OTAs, the quality of play is to the point where nobody feels good about it. Now that we’ve missed all this offseason time, there are going to be even more growing pains for everybody.”

With rookies and fringe players eager to impress, the prospect of injuries is greater than ever.

“The lack of offseason will seriously affect those that have not prepared on their own or at a facility,” said Brian Martin, CEO of TEST Football Academies in Florida and New Jersey, places where dozens of NFL players train. “Based on working with over 60 active NFL guys, I believe it is roughly 50-50 with those that are workers and those who are not. Many rely on natural gifts, and they will be affected with the lack of mandatory conditioning.

“The most common injuries will be pulled muscles, hamstrings and groins primarily, due to lack of preparation,” Martin said. “Players need to lengthen and strengthen muscles in the offseason to be ready for the rigors of the NFL.”

No one can be ready for the rigors of a free agency frenzy, either.

Normally, on March 1, free agents are courted and wooed by various bidders. They make visits to team facilities, meet with coaches and other team personnel, perhaps with the owner. They sometimes even look at potential housing.

Perhaps most significantly, they take physicals. It’s not unheard of for a team to pass on a free agent because of a sketchy physical _ just ask the Dolphins about Drew Brees’ shoulder.

All of that could fall victim to the lockout.

“We’ll be trying to get up to speed in 1 1/2 weeks or two,” Linta said. “When they get on the field, it will be like trying to play a game right after minicamp in May.”


AP Sports Writers Joseph White, Joe Kay and Jon Krawczynski contributed to this story.