What Happens At The OTAs You Have Heard About; It's Serious Work
Organized Team Activities … the OTAs.
Odd name for what used to be called minicamps. But, that's the name that was invented when the NFL and the NFL Players Association completed the last collective bargaining agreement.
These OTAs last three weeks (10 practices). No "live" contact is allowed, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills are permitted. It's football without full pads and contact.
Here's a peek into a typical Ravens OTA day of work. We picked last Thursday, June 1, to observe.
|4:30 a.m.||Manny Tejada, who works with our caterer (Classic Catering), is the first to arrive at the Under Amour Performance Center.|
|5:20 a.m.||John Harbaugh and Associate Head Coach Jerry Rosburg arrive.|
|5:55 a.m||Starting right tackle James Hurst enters the building and soon is warming up in our giant hot tub.|
|6:30 a.m.||By this time, trainers have been at the facility for over an hour, most coaches have arrived, and nine players (Eric Weddle, Hurst, Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Bronson Kaufusi, Danny Woodhead, Kamalei Correa, Crockett Gillmore and Kenneth Dixon) started a weightlifting session with Director of Performance Steve Saunders and his assistants. All players will lift by the end of the day with a focus on upper arms and backs.|
*OBSERVATION: It's almost stunning to see 300-plus-pound athletes do chin-ups – with extra weight hanging from their waists. Weddle, who weighs 195 pounds, straps an extra 70 pounds and pumps some out. These are strong, strong men. "Everything we do has to transfer to what the players do on the field. Everything has a purpose," Saunders explained.*
|6:45 a.m.||Twenty coaches, including Harbs, Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees, Senior Offensive Assistant/Tight Ends Coach Greg Roman, Linebackers Coach Don Martindale, D-line Coach Joe Cullen and a few staff members worked out with a strength & conditioning coach.|
|6:55 a.m.||General Manager Ozzie Newsome jumped on a treadmill for the first of his three workouts for the day.|
|7:20 a.m.||Joe Flacco grabbed some food and ate breakfast with two rookie practice players from the 2016 roster (quarterback Dustin Vaughan and wide receiver Kenny Bell). Kicker Justin Tucker joined the group moments later.|
*OBSERVATION: It's not unusual to see a Super Bowl MVP and a Pro Bowl kicker join two rookies in our dining room. We have good chemistry, and teammates mix in the cafeteria … and argue about whether the Warriors or the Cavs will reign in the NBA finals.*
|7:28 a.m.||Williams, Woodhead and Weddle, all still sweating, joined the breakfast line. Brandon shouted out that he wasn't doing the interview our intern reminded him about – the big guy was just having fun; Woodhead almost yelled: "Everybody doing well this morning?" Most predicted a Cavs win. Ronnie Stanley stood out by proclaiming that Golden State would dominate.|
|8:00 a.m.||Rookies had a special teams meeting; they were joined at 8:30 by the veterans assigned to special teams.|
|9:00 a.m.||Defense met until 10; offense lifted weights (except for those who did at 6:30).|
|10:00 a.m.||Snack was available.|
|10:15 a.m.||Team meeting; Coach Harbaugh started, "We chase everything here, every detail, every step, everything we do. The results are that we play the best we can play, right? Leave a mark. Leave a legacy. Whether it's practice or in a game, be special. Later in life, when people look at video of how you did things, the way you practiced, the way you played, coaches and players can look at what you produced and say, 'He set the standard. This is how you should do it.' … What I see in the weight room, what I see with our conditioning, we are setting standards. We are building something special. … Chase everything. That creates habit. … And, play fast. We fly to the ball on defense, don't we? We attack on offense."Harbs then showed a couple of plays and drills from the previous day's OTA. The first was a 70-yard touchdown completion from Flacco to wide receiver Breshad Perriman. "That's what we're going to do on offense. Big plays!" He then looked at Pees and asked: "What happened on the back end there, Dean?" Pees said: "We fixed it this morning, Coach. Already addressed it." Next play was Williams blowing by center Ryan Jensen to disrupt the offense. "Great play, Brandon. Ryan, what did you see?" Jensen, currently battling John Urschel for the starting center spot, offered: "I guessed, Coach, instead of setting properly and using my technique."Finally, Harbs showed a clip of two very large defensive linemen – Brent Urban and Kaufusi – exploding into a sled and then turning and running into each other. The room erupted with laughter. Harbs: "Who's at fault here?" Immediately, Urban raised his hand, "That's my bad. I went the wrong way." Urban is still sporting a black eye from the head-to-head collision.Harbs then called Coach Cullen to the front of the room. The defensive line coach addressed one of the "five fights teams face every day: Division from Within." I think most of Joe's comments should be kept private by the team. But he highlighted that teams that win trust each other, "have each other's backs. They don't let jealousies or people from the outside, like reporters, separate us. If your side of the ball is going well, and the other isn't, don't let someone separate us. Don't answer a reporter who asks if you're disappointed with the offense or defense. That doesn't help us win." Cullen then gave examples from the 2016 season when the offense carried the day, and we won, and then he named examples of the opposite when our defense or special teams made the difference. "It's easy to point the finger. Don't be that teammate. We don't play the 'Blame Game' here. … In sports, on teams, in your family and in business, the ones that do the best take ownership of what they do, and they trust their partners to do the same. We're a brotherhood in this room. We have each other's backs."|
|11:45 a.m.||Snack available and practice prep.|
|12:10 p.m.||Players collected outside the ropes lining the fields. They were loud, boisterous – having fun. They can't enter the field until 12:15 for the start of practice (collective bargaining rules). At 12:12, Weddle has had enough. He leaped the rope, yells, "Let's go!" And the stampede of players rushed to the start of practice.|
|12:15 p.m.||Practice, which is divided into 14 segments, was completed at 2:08. A good portion of the plays run in practice emphasized second- and third-down situations, including plays in the red zone. A segment called: "Special Cat(egory)" emphasized second- and third-down plays on the fringe of field goal territory. Special teams time was devoted to returns, and the whole team worked on ball security (offense) and takeaways (defense). There was no wasted time in this practice. Players jumped from one drill to another, typical of a Harbaugh practice. Highlights included cornerback Maurice Canady grabbing three interceptions, cornerback Sheldon Price stealing another, Perriman continuing to look sharp and FAST, Flacco throwing to Woodhead for first downs and a couple of touchdowns and outside linebacker Matthew Judon disrupting the offense. Worst moment came at 1:07 p.m. when standout second-year cornerback Tavon Young intercepted a pass, attempted to make a cut, and his knee gave out, tearing his ACL. Impressive was the leadership shown in the secondary by Weddle and Tony Jefferson.|
|2:30 p.m.||Defense lifted, and offense attended a meeting, which ended at 3:30.|
|3:45 p.m.||Rookies attended another set of offensive and defensive meetings that concluded at 4:40.|
|4:45 p.m.||Rookies met for an hour with outside specialists who talked about fathers (Dads) and their influence and how some cause wounds that need addressing. (Rookies have a "life" seminar every day.)|
|5:00 p.m.||Dinner was available for all until 7.|
Think about it. While the sports fans of the area could focus on the Orioles battling the Yankees and Red Sox or the NBA and NHL playoffs, the Ravens worked intently to become the best team we could be. As Coach Harbaugh regularly pushes the players: "Keep stacking good practice after good practice, good meeting after good meeting. … We're chasing perfection, and we will win."
It's exciting to see.
Talk with you next week,
P.S. Thanks and a shout out to some teammates who helped keep track of what happened during this OTA day: Senior Manager of Security Craig Singleterry, Assistant Certified Athletic Trainer Ron Medlin, Director of Performance Steve Saunders and PR intern David Wolf.