The Complete Guide to NFL Offseason Workouts
The NFL offseason workout schedule is in full swing now that the NFL draft is behind us. This provides us with a first look at promising rookies and high-priced veterans showing off their new team colors.
As a former NFL player with the Raiders, Jets, Falcons and Ravens, I’ve survived my fair share of NFL offseasons and have learned a thing or two about the process.
When football is the only thing a player has on his schedule since way back in July, free time becomes a familiar luxury for the first time in many of these players’ lives.
Something few people may be aware of: NFL offseason programs are significantly less physically demanding than workouts for most big-time college football programs. However, what they lack in physical expectation is quickly forgiven with the need for mental preparation.
Many football fans might be surprised how little NFL players see of their head coach in the offseason. Sure, these guys are always around monitoring things, but the bulk of quality time is spent sharpening their weapons, fortifying their defenses and expanding their threshold of attrition.
The general offseason scheduling for most teams unfolds similarly. Organized team activities begin in late May and stretch into the early part of June.
Mandatory minicamps for the vets and rookies alike happens sometime in between June 10 and June 19, for only a couple days per team.
Although organized team activities and minicamps can be long, drawn-out days, the workouts outside of those days are generally no longer than four hours in total. This gives young, rich men in their 20s an awful lot of time to get into trouble somehow.
Most teams having rookie camps do so within days following the conclusion of the NFL draft. Some teams elect to forgo this option.
Rookie minicamp is one of the more noteworthy “kickoff events” to an NFL offseason.
Despite the title, attendees of this camp are not all rookies. Some are lower-level free agents using the opportunity as an extended tryout for the team. Many of the rookies who attend this camp never receive an invite to training camp come July, so the environment can give off quite a misleading first impression of what to expect from the NFL.
Though there was an obvious understanding of the challenges that lay ahead, I wasn’t expecting to show up to a temporary locker added to the center of the room to accommodate the added bodies of undrafted free agents and guys hoping to just make it into camp.
It seemed reasonable to assume drafted players, like me, would at least garner a more endorsing welcome to the organization. But reality and perception are often quite different.
I realized I was trying to squeeze my way onto a team that didn’t even expect me to make it. This moment served as a shocking reality check—not only would I have to literally take a roster spot away from someone else, but I would also have to be better than the handful of other rookie hopefuls trying for the exact same thing.
Every NFL rookie shares a commonality as they prepare for the chance of a lifetime, the opportunity to become a professional athlete, now but an arm's reach away. Yet few truly comprehend the gravity of this concept: Hard workers come cheap in the NFL. How many “hard-working guys” have unceremoniously passed through the halls of countless organizations throughout the years?
Just in case you need a reminder, Football Outsiders contributor Scott Kacsmar puts things into perspective with an interesting estimate: "Only about 30 of these 256 players drafted (12%) will turn out to be good in the NFL."
I can only assume Kacsmar is defining "good" through Football Reference's Approximate Value.
Organized Team Activities
Essentially, OTAs are the only time in an NFL offseason, aside from minicamps, when players and coaches can work together as a complete team on the football field while wearing helmets.
For those newcomers who impressed during rookie minicamps, things can change drastically with the arrival of veterans.
At this point in the offseason, teams are 90 players deep. Competition to make the 53-man roster can really start to intensify. For some, these limited team activities could be the difference between a burgeoning NFL career and becoming just another guy in the stands.
According to the league's Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team may conduct a voluntary nine-week offseason workout program designed to provide "training, teaching and physical conditioning for players." These limited on-field sessions last only a few days at a time and generally yield near-perfect attendance from players.
The nine weeks of OTAs must be structured with each team having specific dates in which they can conduct these activities, with certain restrictions:
- Teams may conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity. No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are permissible.
- Teams that have hired new coaches are allowed to conduct an additional voluntary minicamp for veterans.
- During OTAs, the maximum time allowed on the field is two hours per day, and the total time allotted to a day’s work in any capacity cannot exceed six hours.
- Full-padded practices are strictly prohibited. Helmets are allowed, but shoulder pads and practice pants are not.
Traditionally, every practice concludes with a full-team 11-on-11. This is an opportunity for all of the lessons of the day to come together as a complete offense takes on a complete defense and run or pass can come on any given rep.
The tempo during these drills is critical, considering the league is taking all rules violations seriously. With that in mind, avoiding things such as blocking and pass-rushing are nearly impossible and unrealistic to expect.
From the perspective of a former player, OTAs are the watered-down equivalent of spring football in college. The only things more concentrated are the talent around you and the pressure to succeed.
Meetings after practice are necessary. They tend to be light-hearted and jovial considering the biggest challenges of the day are mostly behind everyone. Film review from the day’s practice makes up the bulk of these meetings in the afternoon before guys are finally sent home to rest, study and start anew the next day.
The top priority for every organization is always to get better as a team while remaining healthy. Nobody wants to deal with the loss of a key player during the offseason.
Vets also try to use this opportunity to refine their fundamentals of the game while improving conditioning. It’s important for these older guys to spend time with teammates and build a rapport with the men who will eventually go to battle by their side.
For coaches, every chance to get on the field and implement their playbook is considered a valuable one. These are the moments that lay the foundation for a championship. Coaches prepare for these few days of football action—evident with enthusiasm and energy.
I guess NFL players do a bit more in the offseason than vacation and hang out with celebrities.
Rookies to Watch for This Offseason
QB Brett Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Smith is an undrafted free agent who signed with the Bucs. He is not expected to compete for anything more than a roster spot, but I have a feeling Smith may be able to compete for a lot more than a third-string QB job. In my personal opinion, he is the best quarterback on that roster, all things considered.
CB Rashaad Reynolds, Jacksonville Jaguars
Reynolds is another talented prospect who went undrafted. He has good size, speed and explosion and was also a highly productive member of Oregon State’s secondary.
RB Lache Seastrunk, Washington Redskins
This speedster can turn into a fantastic change-of-pace back and provide a much-needed home run option on offense. Seastrunk, a sixth-round pick, saw 185 prospects picked ahead of him. He has a great chance to go on and become one of the biggest-value picks of 2014.
WR Devin Street, Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys drafted Street in the fifth round. In a deep wide receiver class, Street slid under most teams' radars. Keep an eye out for this big-bodied (6'3", 198 lbs) target with impressive athleticism, good hands and the instincts to become a true No. 1 receiver.
Street himself believes that he's a top talent. In an interview with All-22 Breakdown, Street said, "I feel like I'm a 1st or 2nd round talent to be honest with you."
We'll soon find out if the Cowboys got a steal in the fifth round.
S Daniel Sorensen, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs lost Quintin Demps and Kendrick Lewis in free agency. With Eric Berry on the team, the Chiefs need someone to pair with him. Currently, the competition is between Husain Abdullah and 2013 fifth-round pick Sanders Commings.
Despite going undrafted, Sorensen has a chance to become a starter in the NFL. He has underrated athleticism combined with a hard hit and impressive instincts.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and currently writes for Bleacher Report. For more information on current NFL rookies, check out his Draft Metric.