(Philadelphia, PA) – The time between the end of the draft in April and the start of training camp at the end of July is supposed to be a quiet time in the National Football League (NFL). Coaches and players are supposed to recharge their batteries during the months of May and June in anticipation of a hot tough training camp. However the quietness of these months has since past as a new and overused term “OTA” has creeped into NFL teams’ vocabulary.
OTA stands for Organized Team Activities. It is a term that was created in the legal jargon of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) to keep a close eye on team’s off-season preparations before training camp. Much like the NCAA’s rules around “practices” in the spring, the NFL has tried to define a strict code of who can practice, what types of drills can be run, voluntary/mandatory attendance and the amount of contact in OTA’s. Rules around these activities are strict enough that teams can get themselves in hot water easily if violations are found. The Philadelphia Eagles in the spring of 2005 lost a week of activities for the simple violation of reportedly several players showing up to train before the off-season start date the club had sent to the league.
NFL Teams may differ in X’s and O’s, however they all can agree on one thing that OTA’s are essential to building the foundation of a winning cohesive football team. Many times when I talk to players and coaches during the crucial end of season November and December playoff stretch run, they point to OTA’s and training camp as keys to everyone getting on the same page.
Most of the OTA sessions are in clandestine settings with players, coaches, and a few members of the media allowed to watch, but recently the Falcons announced that their 2008 sessions will be open to the public. Whether the sessions are open or closed two key areas always seem to provoke news around OTA’s
1) Are sessions voluntary?? – In the days of George Allen, Vince Lombardi, and to a certain extent modern coach Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin there was never the term “voluntary” in their coaching vocabulary. Because players knew they better be at every practice or they were gone. Ah the good old days before the players started voicing their rights. Coaches in their coach-speak wisdom like to say that certain sessions are “voluntary”, while saying it with a wink and smile. Recently everyone knew what Eagles head coach Andy Reid was saying after the Eagles post-draft mini-camp when he said “This is not a mandatory camp coming up, These are OTA’s, and players have the option of being here or not being here”… Sure they do coach. Don’t be fooled most coaches subscribe to the thought what happens in June usually has a distinct affect on training camp and in September. Every coach wants all of his players at OTA’s and to be attentive. And trust me player that doesn’t attend better be a valued veteran with a good reason (i.e. Brian Dawkins in 2007) or they will have a bull’s eye on their back come training camp.
2) How much contact is allowed?? – The CBA says, “No contact allowed anytime.” But we all know coaches and teams will push the envelope. Almost all practices are no pads, but there is always jostling as teams try to figure out who is close to mid-season form. The amount of contact can have repercussion as seen last spring as three clubs with taskmaster coaches were penalized for OTA violations (Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants, and Detroit Lions). The Detroit Lions were especially singled out as their taskmaster head coach Rod Marinelli’s approach was not well received by “coddled” 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 mini-camp. No matter what level of contact, coaches like old-school former Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs think players need to buck up. Gibbs said after a spring 2005 investigation into his OTA’s, “There’s not competitive stuff (at OTA’s)”.
Lloyd Vance is a NFL Writer/Analyst for BIGPLAY Football (Magazine, Website, Blog, and Podcast)