15 Early Lessons Learned from NFL OTAs
While it is easy to overvalue the importance of OTAs and minicamps, they are useful tools for setting up storylines heading into training camp.
It is also the first time in which rookies are practicing with their veteran counterparts, which is always a good indicator as to how quickly the rookie will adjust to the pro game.
As OTAs and minicamps begin to wind down and the final break before training camps open begins, here are 15 lessons that we have learned from this year's OTA sessions.
Andre Branch Could Be the Steal of the Draft
Rick Dole/Getty Images
Despite the fact that he was a second-round pick and far from being the first defensive end selected in the draft, it is tough to find a defensive end who had a more impressive camp than Andre Branch.
Defensive line coach Joe Cullen has been very impressed with Branch thus far:
He’s better than I thought...he’s working harder and getting better every day. Just a little bit, but he is better than I thought.
Perhaps Branch's performance in OTAs was enough for the Jaguars to cut their ties with the oft-injured Aaron Kampman. Now that Kampman is officially out of the picture, Branch will get every opportunity to make a big impact in his rookie season.
A.J. Jenkins Has Work to Do
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
The 49ers drew some criticism when they picked A.J. Jenkins in the first round, and so far, their detractors appear to be right.
According to Grant Cohn of The Press Democrat, Jenkins has a ton of work to do before training camp opens in less than two months:
The Niners' first-round pick looked like one of the worst wide receivers on the field most of minicamp. He didn't play with the first- or second-team offense on Tuesday, and he didn't catch a pass in scrimmages on Wednesday. He had trouble staying on his feet all three days, which was odd considering it was a non-contact minicamp.
The good news is that this seems to be more of a conditioning issue and Jenkins will have plenty of time to sort things out, and the 49ers signed enough wide receivers to survive a season without much contribution from Jenkins.
Still, it is always worrisome when everyone else on the roster is outplaying your first-round pick.
Darrelle Revis Will Never Be Happy with His Contract
Rob Carr/Getty Images
All we need is the Jets to be back on Hard Knocks and this could be 2010 all over again.
Revis is giving a lot of mixed signals as to whether or not he will report to training camp. The contract he signed in 2010 was in fact quoted as a "band-aid" contract, but there is language in his contract that prohibits him from holding out in training camp.
If Revis holds out, the Jets can add up to three years to his contract at a "modest" salary. That is a huge risk to take on while holding out and will have a huge impact on leverage during negotiations if he does.
He was at voluntary OTAs and minicamp, so if I were a betting man, I would say that Revis ends up showing up this year and addressing the situation a year from now.
If Revis does stay home, it would add yet another layer of drama to the Jets' season.
Brandon Weeden Will Start for the Browns
Jason Miller/Getty Images
At this point in the offseason, few teams are in the market for a backup-caliber quarterback now that the draft and free agency are over, but the Browns are probably not asking for much.
All it takes is one team's intrigue and a late-round pick to get Brandon Weeden's name at the top of the depth chart in permanent ink.
RGIII Is as Advertised
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Usually, it takes some time for young quarterbacks to earn the respect of their veteran teammates, but RGIII is bucking the trend.
So far, according to the The Washington Times, RGIII seems to have already earned the trust and respect of his peers, including tight end Chris Cooley:
He may not have felt it, but the way he’s addressed the guys in the huddle, the way he’s called his cadence at the line, the way he’s moving through his progressions.
He might feel like it’s happening slow and he might have felt like he had an ‘ah-ha’ day, but he’s consistently getting better, and I think a lot of people around him can see that.
It is still early in the process, but early indications say that the Redskins' gamble on RGIII will pay off.
There Are No 'Unwritten Rules' in the NFL
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
When asked if he violated any "unwritten rules" by signing Ballard, Belichick denied the existence of such rules.
This is the guy who was responsible for "Spygate," so he probably knows a thing or two about the nonexistence of unspoken rules in the NFL. Bottom line, if the Giants wanted to keep Ballard around, they should have put him on PUP to start the season.
The 4-3 Defense Is All the Rage in the AFC East
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
A few years ago, the 3-4 defense was taking over the NFL like Tamagotchi toys. Now, there seems to be a trend to revert back to the 4-3, particularly in the AFC East.
Just two years ago, all four teams in the division were running 3-4 defenses. Since then, the Patriots have been running more 4-3 looks, while the Bills and Dolphins have all but thrown out their 3-4 ideals.
Now, the Jets, who use just about every formation known to man, are starting to use more 4-3 looks.
It makes plenty of sense, particularly after drafting Quentin Coples. In a 3-4, Coples would play defensive end, which would take good players like Mike DeVito off the field. Since the Jets don't have any rush outside linebackers anyway, they do not lose much when they go with four down linemen, and they are able to utilize their depth on the defensive line.
Justin Blackmon Has More Character Flaws Than We Thought
Rick Dole/Getty Images
A lot was made about the character issues of players like Michael Floyd and Janoris Jenkins before the draft, but little was said about Justin Blackmon's own issues, perhaps because he was perceived as a "cleaner" version of Dez Bryant, despite having a DUI arrest under his belt.
A second DUI later, and the Jaguars have to be concerned about Blackmon's issues off the field. Jacksonville does not have the greatest track record when it comes to taking wide receivers in the first round, and they need Blackmon to contribute in his rookie season to salvage Blaine Gabbert's career as a starter.
Mike Mularkey Is a Nice Guy
The former Falcons' offensive coordinator was not the most popular candidate among Jaguar fans for the head-coaching job, but he is quickly becoming popular with players.
After his players impressed him with their effort, Mike Mularkey decided to give his players the day off and canceled the last day of OTAs.
In this age in which coaches are scratching and clawing for every extra minute with players, it sure is a nice gesture for Mularkey to give his players some time off out of the kindness of his heart.
Peyton Manning Is Healthy
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
As excited as the Broncos were after they landed Manning, there was still the looming question of exactly how effective he would be after a series of neck surgeries.
Based on how he looked in OTAs, the Broncos should have no qualms about the investment they made:
Manning looked great, showing zip and accuracy on his passes, comfort under center, complete command of his offense and no ill effects from the nerve injury that caused weakness in his throwing arm.
It will still take some time for Manning to develop the same kind of timing he had with his receivers in Indy, but it's good to know that Manning's arm is back to normal.
The Bills Have Big Expectations for Shawn Merriman
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
After a few unproductive seasons in Buffalo, it appeared as if the lights were officially out on Shawn Merriman's career.
However, according to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com, Merriman feels rejuvenated after having surgery on his Achilles tendon. He is running around without any pain, just as he did back in 2005.
If Merriman can get back to being the sack artist he was earlier in his career, the Bills' defensive line is going to be tough to handle.
Still, running around in shorts is nice, but it has to translate to the field before we declare that "Lights Out" is back.
The Saints and Drew Brees Are Closer Than We Thought
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
While it is still shocking that Drew Brees is still not under contract when the Saints need him the most, Saints fans can take solace in knowing that the two sides are not miles apart like they were once perceived.
According to Ed Werder and Chris Mortensen of ESPN, the Saints have made Brees a new offer. The two sides are reportedly at odds over a $2 million difference in salary.
There are still plenty of negotiations to be had, but it is encouraging to know that at least the two sides are getting closer to a new deal. It would be absurd if Brees is not taken care of before training camp.
Santonio Holmes Hasn't Changed Much
Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images
Santonio Holmes ended the 2011 season with huge questions about his character and selfishness. Six months later, it's good to know that the old 'Tone is still around.
In his first day at OTAs, Holmes threw a mini-tantrum aimed at his position coaches for giving him "too many reps."
Granted, it was his first day at practice after spending a few weeks overseas doing charity work for the Air Force, but Holmes should be in good enough shape to run as many routes as everyone else.
The Jets had better hope that this is nothing more than an anomaly, or they could be in for a repeat of what happened in 2011.
Cam Newton Is Hard on Himself
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Most rookies would be satisfied with themselves after having one of the best seasons ever for a first-year player at their position, but not Cam Newton.
Rather than basking in all of the praise he is receiving, Newton is looking for ways to improve. He told Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports that he was "a bad teammate" in 2011.
Whether or not the rest of the locker room agrees with Newton's self-assessment is irrelevant; the simple fact that he is so critical of himself after such a great rookie year shows a lot of maturity.
Too often, we have seen rookies that haven't responded well to praise and decline in their second season, but if Newton continues to show this kind of maturity, he will almost certainly avoid any kind of sophomore slump.
No One Is Safe at OTAs
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Early June is probably one of the least stressful times for NFL coaches—except for Mike Shanahan.
Shanahan was involved in a violent collision during one practice in which cornerback Brandyn Thompson blindsided him:
"It was pretty bad looking," said captain London Fletcher, adding that he had never seen a head coach getting hit like that during his 14 previous NFL seasons. "He wasn't able to brace himself for the collision either. He had his back to the play, so (it was) definitely a very scary, scary feeling for a while out there."
If this sideline violence keeps up, we'll probably see coaches roaming the sidelines in helmets sooner rather than later.