DALLAS -- Less than 24 hours after he was drafted last month, offensive tackle Tyron Smith was inside the Cowboys' headquarters receiving an intensive tutorial of his new team's offense.
The cram session took place on the day the NFL temporarily lifted its restrictions that had barred players from their clubs' facilities and forbidden them to meet with their coaching staffs.
But unlike the team members who visited Valley Ranch that morning and afternoon, Smith wasn't a veteran. He hadn't been a Cowboy for even a day. And yet there he was, learning the basics of the playbook from offensive line coach Hudson Houck.
As brief as it was, the episode demonstrated Smith's commitment to an employer he barely knew. But it also captured the Cowboys' urgency to teach Smith as much as they could in the small window of opportunity available to them.
Now that the lockout is back on and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has granted the NFL a stay, it's uncertain when the labor dispute will be resolved and league business will resume.
As the NFL has receded into hibernation, first-year professionals such as Smith are hanging in limbo. They could be most adversely affected if the work stoppage interrupts or eliminates rookie mini-camps and organized team activities.
After all, there is an adjustment period when entering the professional ranks, where the offensive and defensive systems are more complex, the speed of the game is faster and the training is more exhaustive.
"Things go a thousand miles a minute," said Cowboys wide receiver Jesse Holley. "This time is beneficial, more than anything, for those guys to understand what it's like to be in this league. This isn't college anymore."
During a normal off-season teams can offer specialized instruction to players making the transition. The rookies are afforded time to digest and retain the information while the coaches can thoroughly assess whether they are ready to contribute once preseason practices begin.
Last season, six of the seven Cowboys who were drafted made the active roster. They played an average of 8.8 games and 144 snaps. This year, those numbers may shrink if the members of the 2011 draft class continue to be denied the opportunity to show they belong.
"Well, it certainly hurts them," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "The off-season always helps the younger players the most because they get a chance to go practice more than they otherwise would during training camp and during the regular season."
When Garrett began controlling the Cowboys' on-field operations last November, he repeatedly mentioned that he evaluated the roster daily. Often he would follow that refrain by saying he was reluctant to consider hypothetical scenarios regarding the team's personnel.
In other words, Garrett makes decisions based on what he and his assistants have observed, not on what they predict they'll see.
If that is the case, how realistic is it for a rookie to play a significant role if the coaches can't watch what he can do?
"I think it's going to be difficult for anyone who is young," said Daryl Johnston, a Fox NFL analyst and former Cowboys fullback. "If you're athletic and you have a passion for the game, you'll find a spot. You'll find a way to be useful to your team.
"Now, will you be a starter? I don't know. That's going to take something special from one of these younger guys, depending on how much time they miss.
"If we're talking about something that pushes into the preseason and you have two weeks before you're kicking off for a regular-season football game, that's an awful lot to ask."
It's also a demand most football teams wouldn't consider making, unless the rookie demonstrates the ability to handle the workload. Whether Smith and the Cowboys' seven other draftees have the chance to prove as much remains uncertain. They have expressed they want that opportunity.
"I'm here to learn and be coached," Smith said in April.
But first and foremost Garrett and his staff want Smith to play. And until the lockout ends, they won't be certain if he or the other rookies will be ready to do so.
The clock is ticking. The Cowboys know that, and after taking that crash course last month so does Smith.