NFL OTA’s are finally upon us! The beginning of organized team activities signals the start of preparation for the 2014 NFL season. 25 teams are holding OTA’s today, raising an important question for fans. What should we be looking for as teams reconvene to pursue the Lombardi Trophy? Also, what should we ignore as we watch and hear about teams’ practices?
The first thing to keep in mind as you hunt down news about the happenings of your team’s OTA’s is the simple fact that this isn’t real football. We’re not to training camp yet, and these aren’t full-contact practices we’ll be seeing. As such, it’s difficult to get an accurate feel for any individual team or even offensive or defensive unit.
Instead, as a fan, you should be looking for individuals to begin to stand out from the crowd. Although we often see OTA heroes fade into obscurity, it’s never too early to start eyeing potential surprise contributors. There are a number of players on each and every team that are on the roster bubble, and those players have the most to gain or lose as teams begin to evaluate their rosters.
As you begin to scout individuals, don’t worry about stats that will be tossed around by beat journalists. You may hear something like, “Tom Brady was 3 of 15 with 7 interceptions,” or, “Christian Ponder went 57 of 58 with 29 touchdowns in practice today indicating he’ll be the Vikings’ savior after all.” Please, just put stats aside. These practices aren’t simulating regular season action, and that makes looking at statistics and comparing them to what you’ll see during the season completely irrelevant. It’s a matter of comparing apples and oranges, so just don’t do it.
Do watch for significant injuries. Players are constantly being injured, and those uncontrollable factors can often change the fortunes of teams hit hard by the injury bug. Most injuries during OTA’s will be minor, and teams will often hold players out of practice as a precautionary measure. Still, knee injuries and other major ailments don’t exclusively strike during the regular season.
Finally, and this may be of great importance for some fans, don’t lose hope. New coaches are in the early phases of installing their own structure within their new teams, and those types of adjustments take time. In addition, young players are in a completely new and unfamiliar setting. Likewise, those young players need time to adjust to the speed and intensity of the NFL. There are playoff teams that may look awful in OTA’s, and there are teams bound to pick at the top of the draft order next season that probably will look just fine throughout this offseason’s OTA’s.
The point in all this is simple. Take your team’s OTA news with a grain of salt. Look for stories about individual standouts. Keep an eye out for players progressing from where they left off. OTA’s are certainly an important part of the offseason, but they’re not the end all, be all of the football world.