We're mixing sports metaphors here, but right now in the NFL? We should all be pretty happy to have them. Former NBA all-star Allen Iverson infamously said it best a few years ago.
"We talkin' about practice? Not a game. Not a game. Not a game. We talkin' about practice."
In the NFL we are, and considering the off-season uproar that a couple of pounds of air pressure have caused in the football world, getting to this point where we can talk about practice is a welcome relief - even if the games themselves are still months away.
Organized Team Activities - otherwise known as OTA's - begin this week for the Patriots and several other NFL teams. The term "OTA" was created in the 2000's within the Collective Bargaining Agreement between NFL players and owners as a way for teams to keep an eye on the pre-season training preparations of their players. While contact isn't allowed, long gone are the days when players actually used training camp to get in shape for the season.
Sounds like a glorified term for a picnic, doesn't it? Well, you're probably aware the NFL is a 12-month job (if not a 12-month season) these days? OTA's are used as a time for coaches to actually coach - and as a barometer to see where players are, what kind of shape they're in, how much of the playbook they've begun to absorb and where they might be able to contribute once the actual PRACTICES begin during mini-camp in June. And during training camp, which starts in August.
There's less time to actually teach later on, with camp more for installing philosophies, schemes, plays and plans. Now's the time to coach 'em up, to find out who has the capacity to learn and retain what they've learned before the pads start popping.
They're voluntary pre-practice practices, and while 100% attendance doesn't become mandatory until mini-camp in June, we'll still be watching, whenever the media is allowed, to see who participates and who doesn't. Attendance can sometimes say a lot about an athlete's intentions, as some will show up just to avoid potential fines.
Let's also not forget that OTA's are used to keep the NFL in the headlines of your daily sports pages, blogs, websites, highlight shows and talk shows. They help keep pro football relevant during what would normally be a quiet time in the off-season, although this off-season has been anything but quiet.
Deflating, maybe, but not exactly quiet.
When you consider the roster upheaval the Patriots have experienced from last season, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, putting some of the potential replacements through their paces on the field will start the process of re-shaping and rebuilding. New England needs this time now, perhaps more so than in recent years. Ten OTA practices over the next month will lead up to the June 16-18 mini camp, which will then lead into training camp...and finally, the games themselves. They'll be here before we know it.
As Iverson once put so well - "What are we talkin' about? Practice?"
We sure are. And considering where we've been lately, it actually feels pretty good.
"Free Brady" all the way to the very end
Whether it actually has any effect on his suspension or not, "FreeTomBrady" has been a popular hashtag in social media among fans, and it became an actual rally cry this past weekend at Gillette Stadium.
Up to 200 fans, give or take, assembled in the stadium parking lot over the Memorial Day weekend to show and voice support for the Patriots' quarterback, who is preparing with his legal team to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in appealing his current four-game suspension. From the Patriots' perspective, it must be nice to see passionate fans showing support for something in which they have very little say or control.
A local bar less than three miles from Gillette is presently featuring a new brew on its menu - the "Free
Brady Blonde IPA" - and the bar owner has promised a dollar from every beer poured will go to a charity of TB12's choice. But it also was interesting to note over the holiday weekend, while giving thanks to those who have passed on in service to their country, one fan in particular put her money where her mouth is.
Patricia Shong of Auburn, MA passed away May 18th at the age of 72. Her obituary published in the Auburn Daily mentioned the Brooklyn-born grandmother loved to scrapbook, knit, crochet and read, as well as spend time with her family. But her story didn't end there. According to the obit, Mrs. Shong "would also like (us) to set the record straight for her: Brady is innocent!!"
A rally cry from beyond the grave? Now that's showing some passion.
Pats' opponents flying under the radar - for now
Two stories came to light this past week that, under normal circumstances and news cycles, would probably have had a bit more of the spotlight shined their way.
Buffalo defensive tackle Marcell Dareus has been suspended for the Bills' season opener against the Indianapolis Colts for a violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy. Dareus, who was arrested for felony possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia and picked up for reckless driving in May of 2014, managed to also pick up nine QB sacks last season. Rex Ryan will have to wait a little longer than perhaps originally planned for his services on the field.
And one-time Patriots' cornerback Darrelle Revis just can't resist getting a dig in on his one-time teammates in New England, it seems. Revis told the New York Daily News "everybody's blowing it (DeflateGate) up because it is Tom Brady...(the Patriots) have a history of doing stuff. You can't hide that. Tom was there when they did that stuff in the past."
While Revis did tell the Daily News he wasn't aware of any specific wrongdoing by Brady, he didn't hesitate to twist the knife/needle a bit further by repeating what the NFL said in handing down its punishment - that New England's past had something to do with the present situation. "When stuff repeatedly happens, then that's it. I don't know what else to tell you. Stuff repeatedly happened through the years...so they (the NFL) did what they needed to do."
We'll borrow from one-time NFL pass-catching bad boy Terrell Owens: Getcha' popcorn ready. The guess is here that at the very least, October 25th in Foxboro and December 27th at the Meadowlands could feature some in-game fireworks aimed in the general direction of Revis Island, and orchestrated by New England's own game-eligible maestro at quarterback.
Revis thought enough of his year as a Patriot to join his now ex-teammates at the White House, but still can't resist throwing a dart or two up I-95, as if his alliance with a New York team automatically mandates some kind of pestiferous response.
There probably won't be anywhere to hide from the spotlight on those days, don't ya' think?
*John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and is beginning his 23rd year as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 27 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. *
Follow him on Twitter - @JRbroadcaster