I was on KJR-AM radio again this week with morning host Mitch Levy for another of our regular, 7-a.m. chats when my pal asked me some questions I realized many may have.
1. What exactly are “OTAs,” anyway?
The Seahawks on Thursday finished their second of seven organized team activities for this year. They will take place over the next two work weeks.
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“Organized team activities” is NFL jargon for practices in phase three of the league’s offseason workouts, from late May into June. The OTA practices at team headquarters involve no contact while players wear shorts, helmets and no pads under their practice jerseys. No one-on-one drills are allowed, such as a wide receiver versus a cornerback or defensive end pass rushing against a single offensive tackle.
OTAs are officially voluntary per the league’s collective bargaining agreement, but veterans are, shall we say, strongly encouraged by coaches to participate. They are “voluntary” only in that teams can’t fine players for not showing up.
Teams are allowed up to 10 OTA practices each spring. Seattle has only seven this year. The NFL took away three OTAs last September after finding the Seahawks had been doing too much hitting in offseason workouts over previous springs.
Teams now view OTAs with added value and importance since the league recently cut back on the amount of days coaches can be on the field with players during the offseason. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has talked about how those limitations particularly affect how quarterbacks develop and, in Russell Wilson’s case, refine before training camp.
2. Why has the media not been allowed to cover the first two Seahawks OTAs this week?
No, it’s not more of players boycotting the media.
The league stipulates teams must, at a minimum, make one of every three OTA practices open to media members. That’s what the Seahawks are doing this year. Friday is the first OTA day open to the media. The next one is Tuesday. The final one is a week from Friday, on June 9.
Some teams open more or even all OTAs to the media. But that’s not the requirement.
So far this week, the media has had to glean what is going on at OTAs by the pictures and videos the Seahawks have posted from the practices on their team website. The biggest news I’ve seen from those this week is Earl Thomas being on the field and participating in full OTA practice gear. Note the 40-second mark of this video from the Seahawks, and the wrap the three-time All-Pro free safety was wearing on the left shin he broke in December.
I’m guessing no one -- not Thomas, not coaches and probably not the team’s medical staff -- expected him to be on the field for the first OTA practice less than six months after breaking his tibia in Dec. 4 win over Carolina.
3. So what’s the difference between OTAa and the veteran minicamp Seattle is having this month?
On the field, OTAs are essentially the same as the one mandatory veteran minicamp each team has every June; Seattle’s is June 12-14. The players are in shorts and helmets. Contact is prohibited.
The biggest difference is teams can fine players more than $12,000 per day if a player missed a day of mandatory minicamp, per the CBA.
4. Given all the restrictions and lack of pads let alone contact, and the fact the real games are still more than three months away, what exactly are coaches looking for in OTAs?
First -- perhaps foremost -- these practices provide barometers for where players are in recoveries from injuries and/or offseason surgeries. Thomas being on the field shows all signs continue to point to him starting the season opener Sept. 10 at Green Bay. How much strong safety Kam Chancellor (offseason surgeries on each ankle), wide receiver/kick returner Tyler Lockett (broken leg from Christmas Eve) and new offensive lineman Luke Joeckel (knee surgery last October while with Jacksonville) are on the field, even if limited, will hint how ready they may be by training camp’s start at the end of July.
The Seahawks on Thursday posted pictures from Day 2 of OTA. One showed Lockett on the field, helmet propped on his head, standing with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
Coaches also use OTAs to assess how ready physically and mentally new players are to perform in Carroll’s fast-paced system. It’s obvious standing on the sidelines watching these practices when a player is not in shape; he’s the guy shuffling his feet and practically walking while last moving with his position group from drill to drill. It’s obvious when a guy hasn’t gotten into his new playbook enough when he is going the wrong way on plays, or coaches or quarterback Russell Wilson have to stop plays to put him in the right place. Those are the guys usually released after OTAs.
Where players who play multiple positions are lining up during OTAs hint at the team’s plans for training camp and potentially the real season this fall.
If Joeckel isn’t completely limited by his recovery from knee surgery, whether he lines up at left guard or left tackle will eventually have a domino effect on the rest of the starting offensive line.
I’ll also be watching Friday to see how involved Cyril Grayson is in the offense, particularly how often he catches passes from Wilson. That will indicate how accelerated the track sprint champion at LSU is in his transition to football as an intriguing, undrafted rookie free agent. Every year one or three -- or more -- of those come out of these OTAs and make the Seahawks for the regular season. The last few years Seattle has led the NFL in undrafted players -- such as Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett, No. 1 wide receiver Doug Baldwin, running back Thomas Rawls -- on a roster.