With the excitement of the 2012 NFL draft behind us, fans can now look forward to organized team activities (OTAs)—the next phase of the young 2012 season.
As always, many new faces were brought into the league with the NFL draft and the subsequent signings of undrafted free agents. With less than three months to go before the preseason kicks off, those rookies will need all of the time they can get with their new teams in order to get up to speed on the next chapter of their lives.
Most teams accomplish the task of helping new players assimilate by throwing minicamps during the early weeks of May. Those camps can make a big difference in getting rookies ready for the team OTAs, many of which will begin this week, by helping put them on the same page as their veteran teammates moving forward.
The rookie minicamps and OTAs are not strictly mandatory, but they do play a vital role in the development of the young men trying to make seamless transitions from college football.
The most common reason for missing these activities is that incoming NFL rookies from colleges that are on an academic quarter system are often unable to attend because of overlap with their academic calendar.
While the vast majority of colleges in the United States honor the traditional semester system where the academic year ends in late April or early May, a handful of schools with NCAA football teams—most notably Stanford University, Ohio State University and Oregon State University—use a less common quarter system. These schools do not officially break for final exams and graduation until much later, often early June.
In the NFL, early June means that the incoming rookies have missed a solid month of team activities.
Andrew Luck, among others, has already missed out on the lions' share of Colts training activities for exactly this reason.
While some players or some positions will be able to make the transition to the NFL more easily than others, the conditioning, team building and learning opportunities provided at these early-season activities can be vital to success for everyone.
All of the players whose schools use the quarter system are therefore at a disadvantage before they ever set foot on an NFL field, albeit a small one. Quarterbacks, linebackers and other skill players miss out the most by being unable to partake in these activities.
Of course, for those who cannot attend there are surely some concessions made. The playbook can be reviewed from afar and conditioning does not have to be regimented on-site at the field.
What the rookies who are unable to participate in the camps miss out on, though, is twofold. First, they miss the opportunity to begin the types of meaningful on-field relationships with their teammates that can make a subtle difference once the season starts. Second, they miss their first opportunity to officially experience the speed of the NFL.
The players who can attend may not have a significant advantage over those who cannot, but those camps are set up for a reason—they make a positive difference. In the NFL, where any sort of advantage is grabbed onto and milked to its fullest potential, even a small benefit is worth the effort.