Bill Wippert/Associated Press
Rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins
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.