Since the NFL lockout is coming to a head, we'll start moving on to important things... like football. One interesting thing to watch entering the 2011 NFL season for the Jacksonville Jaguars and the NFL as whole is how important Organized Team Activities (OTA's) are.
We've seen a lot of hand wringing from reporters and analysts about the loss of OTA's during the 2011 NFL Lockout, especially in the Jacksonville market. It's been oft talked about in Jacksonville because the Jaguars drafted Blaine Gabbert, a quarterback, in the first round. Typically when you draft a QB in the Top 10 of the first round, they're going to push for playing time. Jacksonville is in a position unlike most teams how do so however, in that they have a capable starter on the roster already.With the loss of OTA's, it's felt by most that Blaine Gabbert's ability to win the starting job before the September 11th opener against the Tennessee Titans is virtually impossible. While that discussion can be picked up at another time, a lot of the reasoning is due to the loss of "valuable" OTA's due to the lockout. Gabbert was able to get a playbook and chopped up film to go with it, as well as working with current quarterbacks David Garrard and Luke McCown. Most feel however, that the loss of the OTA's is virtually a death blow.
"We believe long term he has a chance to be special," head coach Jack Del Rio told Pete Prisco on 930 The Fox. "In the short term is it impacted? Absolutely it's impacted. I mean the guy who has the most to learn, the most to do, is the quarterback. Just think about going through the progress of the play, getting the play called at the line of scrimmage, making the adjustments, knowing your ‘hots', knowing your ‘cites', making sure everyone is lined up properly, making a ‘check' if there's another ‘check' that goes with the play," said Jack Del Rio.
Del Rio added, "It's very complex at our level and a lot goes into it. That's for every position. For the quarterback it is so much more. I think that's an awful lot to ask a young man to come in a couple of weeks and get it all and have it down pat. I think it takes a little time and certainly not having an off-season sets that process back."
What we get the chance to see in the next few weeks (barring a snag in the CBA) is just how much missing OTA's are an impact. Some may not realize it, but OTA's haven't always been a stable of the NFL offseason. Jimmy Johnson started them back when he was hired by the Dallas Cowboys and teams followed suit once the Cowboys started winning. It's a copycat league, so when one team sees something they think "works" they copy it. I don't think the Cowboys started rattling off Super Bowls because of OTA's, however.
We've been told in the past the OTA's aren't important and to not take too much away from "underwear" practice. Now, we're being told that missing OTA's is going to account for sloppy and poor NFL play early in the season. I think it lies in the happy medium. Rookies will find their heads swimming more so than usual early on in training camp, especially guys like Blaine Gabbert, but by the end of the preseason they should have the feel for what's going on. We'll see in the first week of training camp practice if handing Gabbert a playbook was likened to handing him a book written in Chinese, like Jack Del Rio said.
The lack of OTA's in the 2011 offseason and the results it provides during the season I believe will tell the future of OTA's, especially since one of the factors the NFLPA wants changed is the amount of practice time.