Breaking down the OTA practice
Over the course of the next month, we will be updated with countless reports from NFL OTA sessions. Players that are skipping out, players that are staging a quasi- spring holdout (think Chris Johnson of the Titans), the development of the young talent on the roster and the “coach speak” that comes from daily pressers next to the practice field.
However, beyond the daily Albert Haynesworth reports, what is an Organized Training Activity at the NFL level?
Players will tell you that it is an excuse for coaches to get them out on the field in a football setting, stage meetings and find out who is “in” or “out” of the league’s “voluntary” activities.
But, they do have some value, because OTAs are an extension of mini-camp, a precursor to training camp and, above all, another day of practice. It’s a group of sessions that concentrate on technique, basic personnel packages and repetition. Jobs are not won — or lost — in an OTA practice, but this is the time to make good impressions on the coaching staff and your teammates.
Let’s take a look at a typical day at an NFL OTA session…
Like any day in the NFL that has some sort of practice aspect to it, players will come in early and have a meeting. Usually in OTAs the team meeting is brief, with most of the time spent in your individual position groups or with the coordinators. Set the day’s install, watch tape from the previous day’s practice and make corrections. Business as usual for these players. The base packages are installed in these meetings (Cover 1, Cover 2, Cover 3, base blitz packages, etc. for defenses).
No pads are allowed, minus your helmet (which does force players to act violent and have collisions in shorts), and the script is the same — open with a special teams period. Whether it is covering kicks or setting up your responsibilities for punt protection, clubs will spend 15-20 minutes right after warm-ups covering the kicking aspect. Most of the time is spent on technique, foot placement, using your hands, and so on. A teaching period more than anything, as playing special teams without pads is a challenge.
Each position group will spend time doing drills. Deep-ball drills for the DBs, the O-Line will work on the sled, QBs will practice their drops and work with the receivers. Again, technique is the goal of the spring more than production. Big for a rookie, such as the Rams’ Sam Bradford, to get the timing down with his wide receivers in the route tree. And, for vets who haven’t played in a football setting since the regular season, time to get back into the flow of actually wearing cleats and doing football movements on the grass. And, that includes Cowboys' QB Tony Romo.
The NFL’s version of 7-on-7 is no different than the ones we see at the college and high school level. The back seven of the defense (linebackers and secondary) vs. the QB and the offensive skill players. In OTAs, the defense will play its core calls for repetition purposes with some man-free and Cover O (no safety help) to allow the corners to work on their technique. Advantage goes to the offense, as defensive players have no D-Line to work with and become sitting ducks for the QB to chuck the ball down the field with no pressure whatsoever in his face.
Plenty of clubs will run a 10-play blitz script. The offense gets to work on its protection calls and the defense gets to practice its basic pressure packages. Coaches will get players fired up for this ten-minute period, and expect DBs to challenge the receivers and break on the football. The best part of OTAs and the most competitive situation of the spring.
At the end of practice, both the offense and defense will come together for team sessions. It can get dicey in the spring with no pads, and this is where we usually see young players become All-Americans by running through blocks in shorts. Coaches try to eliminate collisions, but when you get 22 football players on the field, it is going to happen. The base run game as well as the dropback game is the focal point for the offense with a few exotic packages sprinkled in to keep the interest level up.
Unlike the regular season or training camp, post-practice time is part of the offseason program. Players will head to the weight room for a lifting session, work on conditioning right there on the field or head to the film room for a laid-back approach on the practice tape. The entire practice is short (under two hours in total), but it is part of the offseason program — no matter who decides to skip out.
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