The NFL OTA sessions are an important step on the way to the 2012 NFL Kickoff, and there are important takeaways to focus on during this period of the offseason.
OTAs are of course without contact or pads, but there are usually important things on display about each team, as positional battles and new schemes are typically revealed during these practices. There are unfortunately some injuries that occur as well that change the complexion of each team.
These sessions are also the first chance to see each team’s new rookies join the rest of the roster. Where the rookies fit and how they perform is finally answered with the onset of OTAs.
There is always a plethora of information flowing out of camps that can often be hard to digest, so here are the 12 most important takeaways from the organized team activities that you need to be aware of at this juncture.
Hakeem Nicks was a major part of the New York Giants' Super Bowl run a year ago, and is easily one of the most important players on the roster.
Unfortunately for Nicks, the OTAs weren’t a warm-up for the star receiver. Nicks broke his right foot during team activities and could miss up to 12 weeks. This means that Nicks might not be available for the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
The injury comes at a bad time for the Giants, as they allowed Mario Manningham to walk via free agency. It also thrusts rookie receiver Rueben Randle into the spotlight as the man who has to take over for Nicks.
Randle will now have to prove his worth, and quickly. Eli Manning and the team relied on its top three receivers to propel it its Super Bowl run last year, and that likely won’t change in 2012. Nicks will be back at some point, but the Giants are hoping his return is sooner rather than later.
Word out in San Francisco is that the 49ers’ passing attack is going to be much improved from 2011, and that makes a lot of sense right now.
The 49ers made a flurry of acquisitions this offseason in the hopes of improving the passing attack that ranked 29th in the NFL last season. They signed receivers Mario Manningham and Randy Moss in free agency and made Illinois' A.J. Jenkins their first-round pick of the draft.
The 49ers have been extremely impressed with Moss specifically, but Manningham and Jenkins are proving their worth as well.
For a team that relied heavily on the running game and tight ends for offensive production last year, the addition of three new starting-caliber receivers could make San Francisco one of the deadliest teams in the league.
It’s still only May, but there are a variety of quarterback controversies rearing their ugly heads already. One happens to be occurring in Seattle.
The Seattle Seahawks went out and signed former Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn in free agency to be the starter. They then made a head-scratching decision by selecting Russell Wilson in the draft (a major third-round reach by many estimates no less).
Add in the fact that last year’s starter, Tarvaris Jackson, is still on the roster, and there is a volatile situation forming in Seattle.
In OTAs, the three quarterbacks split reps evenly with the first team. It’s one thing to have two quarterbacks competing for the starting spot, but three?
One has to think that Flynn will be the starter when it is all said and done because the Seahawks made a statement by going out and plucking him off the open market. The fact that Pete Carroll leaving the starting spot open for three different players could end up doing more harm than good.
Everyone saw it. There was a massive media circus at the New York Jets' OTAs this past week simply because quarterback Tim Tebow was involved.
The fact that Tebow generates this much hype is perplexing. He proceeded to throw two interceptions in the camp before being moved to special teams as a punt protector.
On the other hand, incumbent starter Mark Sanchez looked crisp and skillfully deflected any questions about a quarterback controversy.
I charted the coverage given the two events in the five major local papers Friday -- the New York Times, Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Daily News and the (Bergen, N.J.) Record. You can predict the outcome.
Words devoted by the five major dailies to the Super Bowl champions losing their number one receiver, possibly for all of the offseason training and training camp, and perhaps threatening the start of his season: 2,104.
Words devoted by the five major dailies to Tebow's first practice visible to the media: 6,971.
It’s a sad state of affairs in the NFL when a backup quarterback is getting more media coverage than the defending Super Bowl champs.
The kicker? It’s only going to get worse.
Many consider quarterback controversies to be a problem in the NFL, but it can be quite the contrary. Just ask the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans have the former eighth overall selection in the 2011 draft in Jake Locker still learning the system. They also have last year’s starter Matt Hasselbeck, who threw for 3,517 yards and 18 touchdowns with a solid 82.4 rating a year ago.
Hasselbeck is 36 years old and can mentor Locker, or Hasselbeck can be the starter and still give the Titans some quality snaps from under center.
At OTAs, it was made clear that Locker and Hasselbeck will compete for the starting job. This is a productive kind of quarterback competition in which there are no real losers.
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles' tendon this offseason. While Suggs may want to play again this year, the Ravens are going to have to find someone to replace the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year.
To win the award, Suggs tallied 70 tackles, 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles and two interceptions. There isn’t another player in the league that can single-handedly replace Suggs, so the Ravens are going to have to do it with a committee approach.
While the team drafted Courtney Upshaw, the main candidate for the dirty work appears to be Paul Kruger. In three years, Kruger has only amassed 27 tackles and 6.5 sacks.
Kruger has been lining up at Suggs’ old position in OTAs while Upshaw has been lining up at Jarrett Johnson’s old spot. That means Kruger will be expected to replace Suggs’ production, ready or not.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace didn’t show up to team OTAs while he fights for a long-term contract. He also has yet to sign his restricted free-agent tender.
This has all the makings of an ugly season for Wallace.
This means that Wallace could have some difficulty learning the new playbook as well. The longer the Wallace holdout drags on, the longer it will be until Wallace can digest the new terminology and get on the same page as his star quarterback.
In four years with Chicago, Forte has rushed for over 4,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. He’s also racked up almost 2,000 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns.
It has to be frustrating to Forte, who has been the only viable option on the Chicago offense since he joined the organization four years ago. He’s likely looking for a deal similar to the one the Philadelphia Eagles and LeSean McCoy just struck for $45 million over five years.
While the concern appears to surround his knees and durability in general, it’s an unfounded one by the Bears front office. Last season was the first time he had ever missed any time due to injury, and he would have been able to return for the playoffs had the team made it.
Forte is one of the best all-around backs in the league, so it’s a questionable decision at best to not pay him what he deserves.
Everyone knows how this story went. Peyton Manning was released by the Indianapolis Colts because of questions about his long-term health. The Denver Broncos decided to take a risk on Manning to the tune of a five-year, $96 million contract.
So far, the risk appears to be paying off. Manning reportedly looked great during OTA workouts. His passes weren’t floating, but instead had a lot of zip and were, or course, accurate.
Manning is arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, but taking a risk on him at this point in his career was a big gamble. As of now, Manning still looks like the Manning of old, and that means the Denver Broncos could be playing deep into January this coming season.
The New England Patriots had one of the best offenses in the league last year thanks to the use of a two-tight end system. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski were the beneficiaries of this offensive scheme with All-Pro Tom Brady throwing them the ball.
Despite this success, New England decided to add more offensive weapons at receiver. Wideouts Brandon Lloyd, Donte’ Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney and Anthony Gonzalez all joined the team this offseason.
It also helps that Josh McDaniels has returned to his offensive coordinator position, where he had success before leaving for other failed ventures around the NFL.
The Patriots reached the Super Bowl last season with one of the better offenses in the league, but it appears they weren’t satisfied with the end result. It was hard to imagine the Pats could get any better offensively, but OTAs have shown they likely have.
The New Orleans Saints can’t seem to figure it out. They are still reeling from the Bountygate investigation. They still haven’t signed their MVP-caliber quarterback, Drew Brees. Their NFC South rivals have done nothing but improve.
It could be panic time in New Orleans. It’s mind-boggling that they haven’t extended Brees, who threw for 46 touchdowns, 5,476 yards and a 110.6 rating last year alone. Brees was understandably absent from OTAs.
Meanwhile, around the NFC South things are looking up. The Carolina Panthers upped their defense with Luke Kuechly and the return of Jon Beason. The Atlanta Falcons beefed up their defense with the addition of cornerback Asante Samuel. Finally, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers brought in a new coaching staff and improved the quality of their defense with Mark Barron.
While every team in the division is taking massive strides forward in each area, the Saints are taking major steps back. It’s going to be a long season in New Orleans.
The New England Patriots revolutionized the NFL last season with two-tight end sets. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski decimated the league with a combined 169 receptions for 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns.
The rest of the league took notice. OTAs have been a major indicator so far of which teams will attempt to mimic the Patriots’ offense.
The Cincinnati Bengals are doing it with Jermaine Gresham and Orson Charles. The Indianapolis Colts are doing it with Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. The Denver Broncos are doing it with Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme.
The list goes on. It shouldn’t be shocking in any way. Not every team has a Tom Brady at quarterback, but this new offensive approach is a great way to score points in a hurry until the defensive units in the NFL can figure out how to stop it.