One of the more interesting developments during the NFL’s modern era is the advent of OTA’s: Organized Team Activities.
Most are labeled voluntary while others are mandatory.
It’s those voluntary ones that really seem to get folks agitated.
If a veteran fails to report to the voluntary camps, his commitment is questioned; his work ethic, challenged.
If a player whose position on the team isn’t certain and he fails to appear at the voluntary camps, voluntary suddenly morphs into mandatory and that is met with the scorn of positional coaches and could spell doom for the AWOL player.
The jaded observer might label OTA’s (particularly the so-called voluntary ones) as the league’s way of babysitting athletes. These players that teams invest heavily in, represent the company and for young men with means tripping across the world sometimes in party mode, owners, GM’s and coaches can get a little nervous.
Just ask Tampa about Cody Grimm and Jacksonville about Maurice Jones-Drew.
The more optimistic observer will tell you that OTA’s are a way for teams to monitor the conditioning of athletes; familiarize newcomers with the playbook and prepare teams in a way that leads to greater efficiencies during training camp.
The jaded and the optimistic observers are probably both right.
That said, one of the more interesting things that surfaces in every training camp is the emergence of a young player who appeared on very few radar screens prior to such emergence.
But is the surprising eye-catching productivity real enough to make a difference on the field when the games actually mean something?
That’s a challenge for scouts and coaches throughout the league every summer.
Think of Bobby Rainey last season.
Many labeled him a “poor man’s Ray Rice.” But was he really? Can he be a productive player in the NFL or did he benefit from a determined effort, going balls to the wall against veterans who at times coast, looking just to get in the reps while avoiding injury and protecting their contracts – their livelihood?
There is a Bobby Rainey or more every year and this summer camp will be no exception.
That’s what happens when some players who are fighting for their careers compete against others trying to protect theirs.
It’s like getting a head start in a playground sprint.
And the end result can be deceiving.