First and 10: Shortened OTAs Make Sense
If you heard it once over the last two weeks, you heard it a thousand times: OTAs are voluntary.
Of course, that’s true and it always has been, but it’s still seen as headline-worthy when a player decides to not participate. Part of the problem is that football is a team sport unlike many others.
It’s a hard sport to simulate in practice under any conditions, and under the league’s offseason rules for OTAs, with minimal pads and no hitting allowed, it’s football-like, not football, as Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin likes to point out.
Furthermore, the parts of the sport that can be worked on under these practice conditions are very conditional on participation. Diontae Johnson can run routes and catch footballs anywhere. He’s running the same offensive scheme, so the knows the plays and has the playbook. The only thing he can really hope to gain is to get on the same page with new quarterback Mitch Trubisky. But that only works if he’s there.
How will the new Steelers offensive line shake out with James Daniels and Mason Cole inserted into the mix? Nobody knows if they don’t attend. It’s not going to help his transition back to guard any if Kendrick Green looks to his left and his right at third-teamers at tackle and center. Outside of rookies adjusting to the league for the first time, the only way players get a benefit out of OTAs is if the majority of the team takes part.
When the Steelers called an end to OTAs last week after six practices — well shy of the league’s maximum of 10 — that raised some eyebrows. But in a lot of ways, it makes sense. If the Steelers held 10 OTAs, they would probably only get most of their veterans in town for two of the three weeks, and that participation would be a mishmash. Some would come early and leave, some would come later and stay. The whole team would never be on the field together.
Holding a shorter OTA session makes it easier to get the whole team together, takes it easy on veterans that probably don’t need to be there anyway, and helps focus the team on the task at hand while they’re in town. In this way, less can be more.
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