Has the OTA practice gone too far in the NFL?

The Baltimore Ravens and Oakland Raiders started the discussion of OTAs earlier this month when they were docked practice time by the league and now we can add two more to the list in the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions, who will also miss some time on the field due to rule violations.

Before we get into speculation and try to spin this as a negative for these four teams, let’s be realistic and actually discuss what we are talking about — because it could happen in all 32 pro cities if the players wanted it that way.

I have discussed a typical day in the NFL when the players report to OTAs. The drills, the meetings, the conditioning sessions, etc. All part of the job for NFL players, even if they are labeled as “voluntary.” The basic offense and defense are installed and you go through practice like you would in training camp — in a shortened, less physical setting.

However, that is where the problems arise.

I was part of a team who suffered the same penalties back in the 2004 season — Joe Gibbs’ first year back in Washington after he came out of retirement. We lost a week of OTAs because it was too physical and we went over the time allowed to be on the field. One-on-one’s, team, 7-on-7. It didn’t matter, because we had a new coach and we went after each other a little bit. And, the coaching staff wanted it to be competitive.

The issue here is simple: you put a helmet on and it becomes violent. Forget shorts and jerseys, because most players don’t wear anything but shoulder pads on game days. That helmet leads to collisions and guys going that extra step and playing through the whistle. No, it isn’t the same hitting that we will see across the league during training camp, but there is still contact.

And no coach in the league is going to stop his players from being competitive — even in the spring and early summer. They want that and they view it as practice, not an Organized Team Activity. Call it getting caught up in the atmosphere if you want, but a typical OTA can get pretty physical at times. It happens in this league—especially when players get tired on the field. Emotions can run high.

But, as players, we knew we were involved in certain aspects of practice and in the meeting room that went against the CBA. Our NFLPA team reps heard our complaints, it went to the league office and we were given a week of vacation.

You can call it “blowing the whistle,” but that is a little too dramatic. You belong to a union in the NFL as a player, and those union rights have to be executed at times. The coaches don’t like it, but veteran players know when they are pushing that envelope over the edge. It is a fine line for something that is considered a voluntary exercise for pro players. Yes, there are benefits to them — and they should be attended — but there has to be a line drawn from time to time.

The point here is very cut and dry: it happens everywhere — until the players choose to speak up. Then we have a story so to speak and speculation can be thrown down on the page.

However, in reality, it isn’t that big of a deal and it won’t put a team back in terms of development for the regular season. Losing time on the field isn’t ideal, but let’s not put too much stock into losing a practice or two. It happens.

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