Shortchanged by the lockout last season, the 2011 rookie class was thrown into the deep end this time a year ago.
With no offseason programs, the fresh talent was handed a playbook, given a locker and a number, and told to get out there on the field -- not much time for digestion.
It became an ongoing storyline during the championship season as their progress ebbed and flowed. But now with a season to reflect and a real offseason to compare it to, the current second-year players appreciate it that much more.
"This camp my head is not spinning," said offensive tackle James Brewer, who was inactive every game of 2011. "Last year I had no idea. I was just trying to cram everything I could before the next practice, whereas this time around, for me, it's a lot more relaxed in the sense that I'm not just making sure I'm going in the right direction."
Wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan is also clearly benefitting as he makes his case for a larger role in his second year with a productive first few days of practices. While he worked his way into eight games (and four postseason appearances), the former third-round pick didn't record a catch all season.
"It makes it a lot easier to go and have a training camp this year," Jernigan said. "We had OTAs and rookie minicamp and stuff like that this offseason that we didn't have when we came in. It helps us tremendously. So now you're not out there thinking that much. You know what to do, and you're just reacting to the defenses and the coaching. When we came in, they just threw us in the fire, like, 'Learn this, do it now.'"
The expedited offseason, however, didn't wash out the class by any means, especially on defense.
Linebackers Greg Jones (started 5 games), Mark Herzlich (2), and Jacquian Williams (2) all worked their ways into starting roles during stretches, while players like safety Tyler Sash and linebacker Spencer Paysinger held down special teams all season.
If their predecessors could accomplish all that – and a Super Bowl championship -- on the fly, we'll see how the 2012 crop stacks up.
"They're learning and they have the benefit of the OTAs," Brewer said. "So I think this class of rookies is a lot further ahead than my class was last year."