Our own commentator emeritus GK Brizer says it best— what you can conclude about a team’s prospects for a new season based on what happens in voluntary OTA’s amounts to just about nothing…
After all, it’s a controlled environment with no real oppositional contact and a lot of feel-good-about-ourselves emotion in play.
Still, you can get a general feel for the willingness of the coaching staff and the players to want to get better… Heck, every team in the league wants to get better just to compete… That is a mundane realization. It is not headlines material. But a tiny bit of extra spark seems to be emanating from NovaCare Complex this week. There seems to be a palpable feeling among players participating in the OTA’s that something special needs to be proven about themselves and their team in the upcoming 2012 season.
QB Mike Vick talked to interviewers after Thursday’s OTA session…
Vick this week displayed a quiet confidence of a quarterback who knows he is at the top of his game and is surrounded by players who can make the same claim. He knows another season like the last one likely will get him demoted and Reid run out of town. But he seems to like the action. “It’s a critical year for the coach, it’s a critical year for me,” Vick said. “I just feel like I got everything I need as a player. It’s the first time I’ve been surrounded by this much talent and having a full offseason with coach Reid, which I think is going to be valuable. We’re playing for it all, for our organization, not just for the coaches. It’s a critical year for everybody.”
That’s an example of the unusual type of urgency you rarely hear or feel from a player at voluntary OTA’s.
“I just never felt like this before, as much knowledge as I’ve been able to attain,” he said. “It’s only because of the coaches I have right now. And they’re hard on me out on the practice field, and in the game when I miss certain throws, they’re going to tell me how they feel, and I respect that. It makes me work hard … and that’s what I need to get the best out of me.”
Vick still thinks about what could have been from time to time. “I tell coach Reid all the time: ‘I wish you could have [brought] me here first,’ ” he said. “I wish he would have drafted me. But that’s just an ‘if.’ You’ve got to live in the now, and I’ve got to take full advantage of the time that I have now.”
You know, I’ve been covering this sport for a while now, but I have never heard such genuine emotion coming out of an OTA interview with a quarterback.
But as Brizer reminds us, “Meh…could mean nothing…”
DeSean Jackson gave a nice interview on Thursday, too. He’s looking for a fresh start heading into his fifth season, in which he’s announced a new goal. “Being a leader, carrying the guys with me and stepping up and being accountable,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing that this team needs. With myself, Vick, [WRJeremy] Maclin, [RBLeSean] McCoy, [TEBrent] Celek, as far as the offense goes, it starts there first and foremost. We have to go out there and help our defense out by going out and scoring as many points as possible.”
“As long as we’re able to do that and lead as leaders and everybody watches us and follows along, it doesn’t have to be any screaming and yelling or anything. … As long as we can lead by example and we’re going out there and showing the young guys what to do out there, everyone else will follow.”
Seeing as Peanut has no axe to grind this year regarding contractual matters, I tend to take his words seriously.
Still, nothing really matters until the hard contact with reality in July. Until then, Organized Team Activities or OTA’s are an essential element to build the foundation of a cohesive football team. Coaches use OTA’s and Training Camp to ensure every player on their team gets on the same page. That way they have the opportunity to jell and are prepared for the start of the regular season in September. Most teams encourage their players to attend these workouts. The term “voluntary” is used very loosely around NovaCare Complex. Eagles players know they had better be in attendance at the off-season conditioning workouts if they want to keep their job. Usually, every member of the roster has some kind of workout bonus in his contract, too, so it makes financial sense to attend.
The rules for OTA’s have been stretched and broken more than a few times by aggressively eager head coaches. An instance of this happened in 2005, when the Eagles lost a week of Spring practices for letting several players train before the off-season starting date that the club had sent to the league.
According to the CBA, No Contact is allowed at any time during OTA’s. However, we all know most coaches and teams will push that envelope. In almost all of these practices, pads are not used, but there is always jostling and pushing as teams try to figure out who is close to mid-season form. A couple of years back, Detroit Lions head coach Rod Marinelli was singled out because his rough approach in OTA’s was not well received by many of his own players. The Lions lost two days of OTA’s after a lineman filed a grievance with the NFLPA alleging that the team held contact drills at a minicamp.
Which brings us to the question, do NFL off-season programs have value?
Players will tell you four days a week at the facility are dry, boring and, most of the time, a nuisance to the off-season lifestyle of an NFL athlete. Some of the drills seem pointless. But there is a purpose to everything a team does on the field. There has to be, as practice time is precious.
If you talk to an NFL coach about off-season programs, they will tell you that attendance is crucial not only to the success of his team but the final roster as well. You show a coach that you don’t care about the development of the team in March, April and May, and you make it easier for him to cut you loose in August.
The OTA weight-room work and the on-field conditioning — plus speed work — is pretty standard and not up to par with what these players are used to from their college strength programs or their personal off-season trainers. And players do not feel they’re getting the best workout possible.
But the work in the meeting rooms, with your teammates in the film room and the on-the-field drill work is invaluable… Having the time to self-scout yourself… The time to get together with your position group in the film room and study divisional opponents… The time to really understand tendencies and what to expect from certain coordinators… That doesn’t happen during the season, when there’s no time to relax, and no time to study.
Quarterbacks throwing to receivers, defensive backs working on their footwork and so on… The work that can be done together with your teammates in the spring does carry over to the regular season, to the benefit of the entire team.
Fines are a tactic used by teams to motivate players to attend mandatory OTA’s. The only catch with this is, it’s only effective if a player is currently under contract. Of course if you have a job, you are expected to show up for work. Happiness has never been in the job description of a pro athlete, but then again, they aren’t in it for their health. It’s all about the Benjamin’s. When you talk about a couple thousand dollars in fines to a guy making millions, it may not get his attention.
Anyway, that’s a quick portrait of both the sublime and the mundane aspects of OTA’s… and I’m happy to say my initial impression from May 2012 is the Birds are leaning toward the sublime.
Interesting administrative changes: The Eagles on Thursday announced they had finalized their football operations staff for 2012 with the hiring of Tom Donahoe as senior football advisor, Ed Marynowitz (assistant director of pro scouting), Jake Hallum (senior scout), John Middlekauff (West Coast area scout), Dan Hatman (pro scout), Alec Halaby (special assistant to the general manager) and Jake Rosenberg (manager of football administration).
Donahoe was director of football operations for the Steelers from 1991-99 and general manager of the Buffalo Bills from 2001-05. Hmmmm….
Final note: Since I brought it up, I should clear the air about the Brylcreem vs. Vitalis controversy brewing on the Bored…
It was first advertised on TV by the jingle “Brylcreem — A Little Dab’ll Do Ya!”…. Lyrics for the Brylcreem jingle:
- Bryl-creem, a little dab’ll do ya,
- Use more, only if you dare,
- But watch out,
- The gals will all pursue ya,–
- They’ll love to put their fingers through your hair.