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Eisenberg: Canceled OTA Has Little Impact


PLEASE NOTE:The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Baltimore Ravens' organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Ravens officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.

Let's say the Ravens suffer their first loss of the 2010 season to the Steelers in Week 4. Do you think Ravens Head Coach **John Harbaugh** is going to trudge into the media room and say, "The difference today was those special-teams OTA practices we forfeited back in June. Losing those cost us the game today."

Um, that's not going to happen. In the grand scheme of things, the lost OTAs will go down as a briefly interesting little conversation topic that came and went about as quickly as an Orioles winning streak. It won't have any impact on the season.

But the situation was interesting as a little window into the behind-the-scenes world in which pro football is strictly a business and nearly every move is subjected to complex negotiations between the players' union and the league.

Fans and media don't give that world much thought because, well, it's not that exciting, and it also tends to take away from the popular perception that everyone on every team is on the same page. But in fact, there is plenty of give and take between players and management.

The Ravens were cited, according to Harbaugh, for keeping two players on the field and six players in meetings for too long at their first OTA last month. The league said the Ravens also "violated the rules concerning the intensity and tempo of drills."

My response? You can measure intensity and tempo? How, with an abacus?

Also, there are rules about how long players can practice and meet at OTAs?

Well, yes, it turns out. The collective bargaining agreement (a great summer read, try it – not) surprisingly has a host of such rules. Players can wear helmets but not pads at an OTA. Drills matching 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 units are permitted, but "live contact" isn't. The maximum practice time for a player is six hours a day, two on the field.

In other words, there are clearly stipulated rules, and that left the Ravens with no defense when they were called out by several players. "We made a mistake. We ran over. We're accountable. We deserve to lose the practices," Coach Harbaugh said.

As a conversation topic on talk shows and message boards, the situation quickly degenerated into "OK, who blew the whistle?" Speculation centered on several veterans who might have a beef with their roles on the team. You know who they are.

It may or may not have been those players. Until someone fesses up, which is highly unlikely, the raising of any names is pure speculation.

But here's the thing: whoever they are, they had a right to do it. Rules are rules.

When I was on a radio show earlier this week, a caller used this incident to suggest the Ravens players might not be as excited about the upcoming season as the fans. If the players don't want to practice as much as possible, his reasoning went, they must not be that excited.

It's an interesting take, but groundless. For starters, there's no evidence the players aren't excited. In fact, listening to their interviews during the OTA season, they seem very excited, as most pro athletes would be entering a season of high hopes.

As well, while the upcoming season is exciting for the fans to contemplate, it remains, as always, a work environment for the players. They want to practice as much as they're supposed to practice, but not necessarily more.  Sorry to be unromantic, but it is their job to play football, put on a show for which they're paid, win or lose. And they have a union that seeks to protect their interests in all situations.

The fact that a few players blew the whistle doesn't mean some horrid divide suddenly exists. "There's no problem here," cornerback **Chris Carr** said.

No, it's just a reminder that there are two sides to pro football, as there are in every business environment going back to the Roman circuses. There are the people running the show, and there are the people in the show. They don't always see things exactly the same way. This is surprising?

John Eisenberg worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.

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