Organized team activities, or OTAs, is the nine-week window of light workouts that bridge the acquisition period—free agency and the draft—and training camp for NFL teams.
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the keyword to emphasize is light.
For veterans who have secured their starting position, OTAs are an inconvenient break from their offseason vacation. Players leave their offseason homes and families to participate in the helmetless practices.
But for other players, ones that are operating on more unstable ground, OTAs are a welcomed expansion of training camp and provide players with a longer audition on their quest to supplant the starters at their position.
It is also the first opportunity for new players to earn respect from their teammates.
Whether to impress coaches or to obtain the adoration in the locker room, these NFL players would be wise to perform at OTAs.
April was not spectacular for Geno Smith.
Unflattering scouting reports criticized the West Virgina quarterback’s work ethic and eventually the apparent first-round prospect wound up falling to the second round, where he was selected by the New York Jets.
Geno Smith should seize any opportunity to shed his lazy reputation and OTAs will be his first chance to quell the rumors.
Smith won't be expected to win the starting job in New York, yet, but he needs to show his coaches that he wants to be an NFL starter by competing in practice.
Smith won’t be able to silence his media critics by working hard in OTAs, but he certainly can show his new teammates and coaches that the whispers are fictitious and that he can be the quarterback of the future.
Much like Geno Smith, Te’o will need to have a strong OTAs to earn the respect of his teammates and to dispel criticisms.
After the bizarre revelations of his personal life, Te’o will have to work harder than other rookies to earn the adoration of the locker room.
Personal matters aside, Te’o can utilize OTAs to enhance his likelihood to capture a starting linebacker position.
Following a disappointing national championship performance and a mediocre combine appearance, Te'o will be able to respond to his naysayers and show that he can compete physically at the professional level.
After a tumultuous lead-up to the draft, the practice field might be a sanctuary for Te’o. At least it can be if he is able to earn the respect of the locker room and silence the off-the-field chatter.
With new head coach Chip Kelly patrolling the Eagles sidelines, any opportunity to impress should be utilized. Especially for Vick, who is one of four quarterbacks vying for the starting quarterback job.
Vick is the oldest of the competitors and is coming off a 2012 campaign that was memorable for all the wrong reasons. The oft-eclectic Vick accrued 21 turnovers in 10 games in 2012, throwing 10 interceptions and coughing up 11 fumbles.
Training camp will be essential in distinguishing the Eagles starting quarterback, but Vick and others on the roster will be wise to perform well in OTAs and leave an impression on their new head coach.
The most unattractive of the quarterback competitions in 2013 will be the battle between Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell.
Weeden had a solid rookie campaign, throwing 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, but in today’s NFL the maturation process for quarterbacks is much thinner than it once was.
The Browns brought in veteran Jason Campbell to push Weeden this offseason; however, Weeden has the inside track of maintaining his starting job.
Jason Campbell saw action last year for the Chicago Bears when Jay Cutler got injured, but wasn’t as effective as he or the Bears had hoped he'd be.
Two numbers you are certain to hear a lot of during this competition are 29 and 31.
The second-year Weeden is 29 years old and Campbell, a veteran of eight years, is 31.
Typically the more inexperienced player can rely on his youth as an advantage, but Weeden doesn’t have that luxury.
The pair of former first-round draft picks will both need to have strong OTAs to impress new coach Rob Chudzinski and to rally support from teammates.
The departure of Steven Jackson this offseason has left the Rams running back position vacant.
Isaiah Pead will be a contender for that opening and will want to perform at the team’s OTAs this summer.
The 5oth overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft admits his rookie season struggles. Gaining just 54 yards was not what Pead or the Rams envisioned by the former Cincinnati Bearcats standout.
Last year Pead was beat out by seventh-round selection Daryl Richardson, and now he will look to return the favor and beat out Richardson in 2013 for the Rams starting gig.
After a disappointing rookie season, Pead will need to impress if he hopes to get playing time this season.
Consecutive unproductive seasons can shorten a player's career significantly, and even as a second-round pick, Pead is not immune to being cut if his struggles continue.
Connor Barwin arrived to the Eagles OTAs fresh off signing a $36 million contract.
Barwin will want to maintain an active presence during the workouts to show the Eagles players and coaches he is worth the investment.
Further, late in 2012 Brandon Graham started playing well, accumulating 5.5 sacks. You can be sure that Graham won’t hesitate to pursue the Barwin’s job.
This offseason saw a lot of turnover on the Eagles defense. Barwin will have the opportunity, and the expectation, to solidify himself as a star on the Eagles defense and to provide experience to the young roster.
The opportunity begins in OTAs.
For over a decade, Brian Urlacher has been the face and defensive captain of the Chicago Bears. With the eventual Hall of Fame linebacker no longer with the Bears, D.J. Williams and rookie Jon Bostic will compete for right to replace Urlacher.
Chicago acquired the veteran linebacker Williams in free agency, then last month selected Bostic with their second-round draft pick.
It should be a tightly contested competition between the two, and it starts in OTAs.
Also, departing from the Chicago Bears defense this offseason is Nick Roach, which creates two starting linebacker vacancies.
The loser of the middle linebacker competition will also have the opportunity to start opposite Lance Briggs at outside linebacker, making OTAs a valuable audition for Bostic and Williams to distinguish themselves for both positions.
2013 is a pivotal season for Christian Ponder.
The former first-round pick was a significant reason why the Vikings traded the ultra-talented Percy Harvin to Seattle, as Harvin was not a member the Christian Ponder fan club to say the least.
But, by backing Ponder and trading Harvin, the Vikings have flexed their support for the young quarterback.
After the expensive signing of Greg Jennings, the trio of first-round draft picks and the return of NFL MVP Adrian Peterson, the pressure to perform has been elevated for Ponder.
After a playoff appearance in 2012, the Vikings expect, or are at least spending as if they expect, to return to the postseason this year.
Ponder can silence the chatter that Matt Cassel will supplant him as the starting quarterback by having a strong offseason, beginning with OTAs.
Typically, when a player starts all 16 games as a rookie, it's indicative of a successful rookie season. For Jonathan Martin that is not the case, as the rookie struggled in pass protection in 2012.
In 2013 Martin’s responsibility will be increased as he has been tabbed the team’s starting left tackle.
Martin started four games at left tackle last season, but with all the discussion about the Dolphins potentially trading for Brandon Albert, Martin will want to solidify himself during OTAs.
If Martin doesn’t improve in pass protection this season, his tenure as a starting tackle will begin to diminish. If he does improve, he could become a long-term book end for young Dolphins offense.
Flynn couldn’t have been thrilled to hear his new NFL team draft a rookie quarterback named Wilson.
After getting beat out by Russell Wilson in 2012, Matt Flynn has been given a fresh start in Oakland.
Flynn will want to immediately establish himself as the team’s best quarterback to reinforce support within the Raiders locker room. To do that Flynn will need to have crisp workouts at OTAs.