Every NFL player can benefit from a full offseason. But last season, there were many players who did not get one.
The lockout presented many difficulties for particular players and even coaches in the 2011 season. For instance, new coaches had little time to take a look at their team and find ways of improving it. Rather than being able to use their offseason to develop their team, these new coaches had to work with what they had during the actual season.
Likewise, the players also had a lot of difficulties—especially rookies and veteran players playing for a new team. These players had very little time getting to workout and practice with their coaches and teammates. As a result, some of them had trouble getting comfortable in their new surroundings.
However, there were also some players that did perform well, despite the lack of an offseason. After having a successful 2011 season, these players are going to have a full offseason to practice with their coaches and teammates.
Whatever these players did last season, there's reason to believe they'll be even better next season.
Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton
Andy Dalton may not have expected to become the starting quarterback in Week 1, but he definitely played like one. Although he was drafted in the second round, Dalton played like he should have been a first-round draft pick.
Last season, Dalton started all 16 games and took the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs. Dalton finished his season with 20 touchdowns, had a passer rating of 80.4 and threw the ball for 3,398 yards. Not bad for a second-round pick.
But because of the lockout, Dalton didn’t have much time to prepare for the season. Whatever he had to learn before the 2011 season started, he had to learn it fast.
Dalton won't be under such time constraints this time around. Given a full offseason and some more time learning Marvin Lewis’ system, we may see some huge improvements in Dalton's game.
Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton
It seems unreasonable to think Cam Newton can have an even better season than he had last season.
In his first NFL season, Newton threw for over 4,000 yards and scored 35 touchdowns. He also broke several rookie records.
Unfortunately, the Carolina Panthers still ended their season with a 6-10 record and finished third in their division. Although the Panthers defense was blamed for most of their losses, one can’t deny that Newton wasn't always perfect either.
If anything, Newton still has some room to grow. For instance, Newton turned the ball over 19 times last season.
Due to the lockout, Newton wasn’t able to practice with Ron Rivera and the Panthers until a few weeks before the 2011 season started. But this didn’t stop Newton from finding ways to prepare for the season elsewhere.
Newton made a smart move by getting some help from former Panthers quarterback Chris Weinke.
Even though Weinke managed to help out Newton quite a bit, nothing could prepare a quarterback any better than being able to practice with his coaches and teammates during a full offseason.
Oakland Raiders' Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer was on the verge of retiring before he joined the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders gave up a first and second-round pick to get Palmer, leaving some Raiders' fans wondering whether he was really worth it.
Given the way last season went, and the amount of time Palmer actually played, it might be too soon to make that sort of judgment.
In 2011, Palmer entered what some of us might call a real good situation. At the time, the Raiders were leading the AFC West and they just lost their starting quarterback, Jason Campbell, to a season-ending surgery.
The problem for Palmer, however, was that he had little time to prepare and learn the playbook. As a result, he didn't start in his first game against the Kansas Chiefs. But later in the game, when Palmer replaced Kyle Boller, he found himself struggling quite a bit. He not only had trouble completing passes, but also ended up throwing a couple of interceptions.
Later in the season, Palmer had his good moments, but also still struggled a bit. The Raiders ended with an 8-8 record and failed to make the playoffs.
Although Palmer will not be getting the same coach back, or perhaps the same playbook, there’s no doubt that Palmer will be much more prepared for this upcoming season than he was in 2011.
In addition, Palmer has a lot to look forward to next season. He's going to have time during the offseason to practice with Oakland receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford. Not to mention, he and the Raiders will have Darren McFadden back.
With a complete offseason, Palmer may end up becoming the quarterback that the Raiders need.
San Francisco 49ers' Alex Smith
In a sense, Alex Smith has practically been a rookie every year he’s played on the San Francisco 49ers. He hasn’t had the same offensive coordinator and the same head coach two seasons in a row. Smith has also had to learn several new playbooks, and has even had to re-earn his starting spot several times.
One might claim that Jim Harbaugh has practically resurrected Smith’s career. In the 2011 season, Smith threw 17 touchdowns, only turned the ball over eight times and had a passer rating of 90.1. He also completed 61.3 percent of his passes.
The 49ers not only made it to the NFC Championship, but Smith also managed to look like a great quarterback at times. His performance against the New Orleans Saints, for instance, gave 49ers’ fans a look at a quarterback that they’ve been hoping for.
Smith’s numbers weren’t elite numbers, but they were still impressive. He will also have some additional weapons on his team. Newly acquired receivers Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and AJ Jenkins may make quite an impact on how Smith plays next season.
Give Smith a full offseason, with the same head coach and offensive coordinator, and we’ll see what he can accomplish in 2012.