Football is back. NFL players are on the field.
Not at team facilities — that's banned by the lockout. Instead, led by such veterans as Drew Brees, LaDainian Tomlinson and Tony Romo, players are holding workouts across the map.
Some have been open to the public, others more clandestine. None has the intensity of a minicamp, which most teams would be holding right about now if not for the work stoppage.
"This is just the nature of what we've been placed in," said Houston tackle Eric Winston, the Texans' alternate player representative. "It is frustrating, but at the same time, this isn't the path that we wanted to go down. But this is where we are, and we have to be professionals and do what we have to do to stay ready."
That means getting together on college campuses, at high schools, even at a golf course to stretch, lift weights, run through plays, and prepare as if a return to real football is just ahead.
Some of the workouts have been highly attended, including about 40 Saints at Tulane University earlier this week.
The Texans made use of facilities at Rice University, less than 5 miles from their Reliant Stadium home, where a dozen or so players have participated, but no drafted players. That seems to be a trend for many of the workouts, in part because those players could have insurance and health coverage issues.
But Jets draftees Jeremy Kerley and Scotty McKnight, both wide receivers, attended Mark Sanchez's Jets West camp in Mission Viejo, Calif. It was staged on a high school field, and the Jets' local rivals, the Giants, held something similar Thursday in Hoboken, N.J.
At one point, a truck from the Hoboken fire department pulled up about a block behind the artificial turf field, set up its ladder, and firefighters climbed to the roof of a storage company. They stood on the edge of the roof and watched practice for about 10 minutes.
Among the Giants on hand were quarterback Eli Manning, tight end Kevin Boss and receiver Hakeem Nicks. Manning and backup Sage Rosenfels simulated snaps, dropped back, rolled out and threw an assortment of passes. Some throws were held up by a brisk wind.
"We're getting our timing back down the first week, making up a little bit," Nicks said. "I think guys are trying to get back in that groove and get that connection back."
While there's a disconnect between the league and the players as the labor dispute goes through court proceedings, hundreds of players are doing everything from tossing balls to running routes to discussing playbooks. Vets such as Brees, Detroit's Kyle Vanden Bosch and Carolina's Jordan Gross are taking charge of organizing these activities and serving as quasi coaches.
Lions players plan to gather during the week of May 16 for offensive and defensive drills.
"I don't know how productive it could be for defensive linemen, but it would be huge if we could get some DBs and linebackers there to work against the offense," Vanden Bosch said. "(Matthew) Stafford sent a text message out to guys (Thursday) morning to let guys know he'll be in town for it."
NFL MVP Tom Brady has texted Patriots teammates about getting together. Browns second-year quarterback Colt McCoy hosted workouts in Texas and teammate Joshua Cribbs hopes to hold another set in Ohio.
The Redskins held two days of workouts last month at a high school field in Virginia, drawing 26 players the first day, 30 the next. Linebacker London Fletcher, a 13-year veteran, organized non-contact drills that lasted less than 90 minutes.
Dolphins players are not being charged for their sessions at Nova University, which is close to the team's headquarters. Tackle Jake Long and QB Chad Henne have handled the arrangements and run the workouts.
"We contacted the athletic department and the AD over there and they were willing to work with us and gave us an hour in the weight room four days a week," Pro Bowl long snapper John Denney said."And we have access to the soccer field as well. After we lift, we go out and do some drills."
Not everyone can get to these organized workouts. Jets offensive lineman Rob Turner is working with his personnel trainer, Matt Gierenger, in Austin, even as many skill position teammates are on the West Coast with Sanchez.
For now, Turner doesn't see that as a problem.
"I can do a lot of these mental gymnastics on my own, I have the playsheets from last season," he said. "I can keep my brain fresh. The actual physical playing of it is about 10 percent of the overall game. The game is so mental, understanding where you have to be, getting to the right place at the right time, and then let the technique carry you on.
"But as this thing prolongs, just like in any training regimen, the intensity picks up and the intensity of what you focus on picks up. You will cut away the stuff you don't need. As we get later in the month or into June, I'll be looking for other linemen ... to do other work with."
If the work stoppage lasts that long, Turner certainly won't be alone in looking for company.
AP Sports Writers Tom Canavan in Hoboken, N.J., Larry Lage in Detroit, Tom Withers in Cleveland, Steven Wine in Miami, Mike Cranston in Charlotte, Chris Duncan in Houston, and Joseph White in Washington contributed to this story.
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