A few weeks ago, I had a discussion with a Steelers fan named Reed, as well as Mark Kaboly from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, on Twitter. Below I have the beginning of our conversation. (The discussion began after Mark tweeted about Bruce Gradkowski vs. Landry Jones)
Now that I look back on our discussion, Reed brought forth a very important question: what can we really determine from OTA’s and mini-camp? Some people feel football in shorts is a huge indicator of things to come. Others feel you can’t determine anything from these practices. I have honestly gone back and forth on the matter. One of the biggest things for these offseason practices to look at is how able players are to learn either the offense of the defense. During this point of the offseason, players will experience growing pains as they continue to learn the new system, if they are either a rookie or a free agent that is. In the Steelers case, this offseason, as well as the last, the entire team has had to learn a new system through Todd Haley. But, unlike last offseason, the vibe from practice is much more positive, regarding the offensive play book.
After going back and forth several times, I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t such a black and white answer. While you will have some players that are rock solid at these non-padded practices, it is a good sign, but it really doesn’t mean much at all, because football is a game that is played in pads. On the flip side though, if a player is really struggling in OTA’s (such as Landry Jones) then there is some concern because in order to play at full speed by the time training camp comes around, you need to have the basics of the schemes as well as basic mechanics. A player has a much better shot at winning a job at training camp if they don’t have to think. Having played football myself, when I was able to not have to think, I went twice as fast and hard then I did when I had to think about what I was doing. Football is all about muscle memory because the moment the ball is snapped, you don’t know what is going to come over your mind, or what might happen. If a player has a certain technique in their muscle memory, it becomes natural so they don’t have to think, making their chances of success much greater.
With OTA’s and Mini Camp, it is all about reps. Reps, reps, and more reps. This is a good time to work out a flaw in technique or footwork so when the season comes around, the good habits are in place, while the bad habits are gone. So what can we really determine from practice and short’s? Not much because it is a good time for systems to be learned, and technique to be fixed. We can’t determine much from it because the NFL is TACKLE football, even though Roger Goodell seems to be trying to turn it into flag football. The real time to tune in begins on June 26th, when the players report for training camp. Let the fun begin.
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