Honestly, it's like watching grass grow.
Organized Team Activities have begun for the Patriots, and the schedule says they will continue periodically (June 5, 9, 10, 12, 13) over the next two weeks, before team mini camp begins. After mini camp, it's only another month until the actual training camp - the "putting together" of the 2014 New England Patriots - gets started in July, and another two months before the pre-season kicks off.
The New England Patriots held their third organized team activity on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium on Friday, May 30, 2014.
What's all the fuss about? OTA's are rarely anything more than glorified walk-throughs. There's no contact, there's no full-pad drills. Players can continue to learn the playbook, and coaches can observe the players' ability to absorb it all. Offense and defense can run against each other. Base schemes are installed. Seven-on-seven drills take place and quite a bit of one-on-one work will be had. But they can't hit, can't tackle, can't really be physical and can't do the things that have put them in position to be here in the first place. Paychecks don't even start until the actual training camp kicks off in July, so there's really not much on the line.
Remember last year? Free agent tight end Zach Sudfeld was potentially "a baby Gronk" in some circles…thanks to his pre-season performances that began in OTA's. He wound up being released in October without so much as catching a cold in New England, and ended up with the J-E-T-S where he caught just five passes for the season. In other words, there aren't many superstars born…or even jobs won or lost in shorts and shells during these Organized Team Activities - which also includes things like going to the movies or other team-building ideas.
Before you consider this as blaspheme, to the coaches OTA's are useful. Individual time periods during these practices can be used for keeping a keen eye out on players' strengths in the open field, or against another player in one-on-one drills. Mechanics, footwork, blocking technique, hands, hip turn - it's all in play for individual instruction. You've heard the phrase "the Patriot Way?" This also includes the way to play on the field. Veterans can use this time to improve their technique, since most practice time during the season is focused on game preparation. OTA's are videotaped by the staff, and the tape is poured over by staff and players alike in an effort to improve individual performances. You can certainly make the case for OTA's as the foundation for a season.
You might also be able to make the case for the players' use of OTA's in order to gain some leverage in contract negotiations with their teams. For instance, wide receiver Andre Johnson - widely reported to be unhappy in Houston - skipped the Texans' practices Tuesday a week ago. For anyone of a lesser caliber than Johnson, missing even a "voluntary" workout like these is a likely ticket out of town. Doubt that Bill O'Brien puts him on a plane to somewhere else, even if he's the new sheriff in H-Town, however.
Is there a difference between winning now, and winning later? While OTA's are useful for putting plays and schemes in place, there's nothing that counts on the scoreboard. Yet, if these walk-in-the-park practices are successful, then it stands to reason training camp practice time doesn't get used as much to learn the playbook, and players aren't forced to work as much on technique that they've already been refining. More time can be spent on things like putting the ball in the end zone, or defending inside the 20, during training camp.
Which is what really matters to most of us, right? Right? Give me some action. Spare me the installation of Over Cover One and Under Smash zone blitzes, basic conditioning drills and wash-rinse-repeat techniques. Wake me up when guys can hit and be hit. I'm going to take some time to smell the grass growing, even if technically-speaking…the season starts now.
John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and has been the Patriots' stadium voice for 22 years. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" during the season on Patriots.com Radio for 13 years, and broadcasting college football and basketball for the past 26 years, Rooke is also a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame.
Follow him on Twitter - @JRbroadcaster