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Holdouts playing game of catch-up

First-round draftees find it difficult to make up time lost due to contract negotiations.

Chiefs defensive end Tyson Jackson, like so many other rookie holdouts, is struggling in a game of catch-up that’s seemingly never going to end.

AP photo

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tyson Jackson hasn’t looked at all that money in his checking account, much less spent any of it. He’s too busy reading his playbook.

On the practice field, the Kansas City coaches yell at him from all angles like an army of drill sergeants: “Tys, get your pads down! Tys, get your hands up! Nine-four, move your feet!”

Five days. That’s all Jackson missed of training camp.

Might as well have been five weeks.

Like so many rookie holdouts, the Chiefs defensive end is struggling through a game of catch-up that feels more like boot camp. Can he make up for the lost time, become a productive NFL player?

“To me, that’s the worst thing a player can do,” Chiefs coach Todd Haley said. “You see it over and over, guys hold out, they aren’t here, then they get hurt — it’s just a re-occurring pattern.”

Yelled at for their mistakes by day, cramming playbooks by night, rookie holdouts are behind before they get started.

Stay in shape, excel in minicamps, that’s great. But the real test of what they really know, what they can really do comes in training camp. Full speed, full pads, no hiding. React or be exposed. Hit hard or end up on your back.

The speed, the pain, the pressure of the NFL spares no one. Missing even one day can leave a rookie lost.

“It’s totally different. It’s football now,” Jackson said. “There’s nothing you can do during the offseason to prepare your body for football and the physical contact that takes place with it. You can train as hard as you possibly, but it’s totally different once you put the pads on.”

Nine first-round draft picks are part of the catch-up game after missing some of training camp this year. San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree and Cincinnati tackle Andre Smith still haven’t signed and aren’t even close.

And, as they sit at home, trying to stay in shape, camp goes on as if they aren’t part of the team. It’s no slight. The coaches want them there, but can’t worry about the future. In the brutal nature of the NFL, now is all that matters.

“We haven’t allowed anything else to come into the picture where we are thinking, ‘What if this?”’ 49ers coach Mike Singletary said. “We are just going to continue to move forward. I’m still excited about Crabtree and the athlete he is and, at some point in time, what he brings to our team.”

The longer the holdout, the harder it will be to come back, though there are a few success stories.

Emmitt Smith ran toward greatness after his contract impasse with the Cowboys in 1990. Bo Jackson became one of the greatest two-sport stars ever after a holdout with Tampa Bay sent him to baseball. But they’re exceptions; Smith was probably going to be a Hall of Famer no matter how much time he missed and Bo, well, he knows everything.

Most of the time, it doesn’t work out.

In 1984, San Diego used the sixth overall pick on Mossy Cade, a cornerback from Texas. He held out, spent a season in the USFL and never amounted to much, playing two unproductive seasons with Green Bay. Cade later served 15 months in jail for sexual assault.

Running back Sammie Smith, the ninth overall pick by Miami in 1989, played four so-so years in the NFL after holding out for more money as a rookie. He once needed a police escort from the stadium after fumbling in consecutive games, and served a six-year prison sentence after police found 15 pounds of cocaine in his car.

Not all holdout hangovers are that dramatic.

Bengals running back Cedric Benson, a former All-American at Texas, has yet to live up to the potential of being the fourth overall pick by Chicago in 2005. He missed all of his first training camp due to a holdout, played just nine games as a rookie and hasn’t gained more than 750 yards in his four seasons.

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