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Pretty lofty comparison.
Mike Tomlin isn't Chuck Noll, but he's sure starting to sound just like my former head coach. Coach Noll always said: football games aren't played in shorts. Apparently, Tomlin feels the same way.
Answering a question about the importance of OTAs (offseason team activities) and minicamps, the second-year Steelers head coach told Michael Lombardi of SI.com:
"It's different than playing the game of football. Don't read too deeply into evaluating this time of year. It's about teaching. This is football in shorts, and I keep that in mind as I look at what goes on out there. People that may do great things out there may disappear in pads. Guys who struggle out there in shorts may be great players in pads. I always keep that thought in mind. I reserve judgment until we go to training camp and put pads on."
That's right, we're talking about practice. More specifically, the evolution of offseason practices.
I feel the evolution of the NFL offseason hasn't been steeped in intelligent design. When I was drafted in 1987 (wow, has it been that long?) you had a true offseason. You were able to have somewhat of a life. You had downtime. But these days, that time's up.
OTAs didn't exist in 1987. I don't recall participating in OTAs until around the time Coach Noll retired in 1991. And team activities didn't commence until April -- the first minicamp.
The offseason schedule for players is now married to the coaches' schedule. As mandated by general managers and owners, players now must devote nearly as much time at the facility as coaches. The owners want their product to perform at an optimum level. More importantly, they want wins.
But a longer official offseason is not the path to success. A major difference between now and 1987 is players predominately worked out individually, especially when it came to running and speed drills. They felt their solo workouts were more beneficial. They worked out because they wanted to, not because they had to.
Take the two Super Bowl XLII participants, the Giants and the Patriots. After finishing the big game on Feb. 3, six players from the two teams went to Hawaii to play in the Pro Bowl in Honolulu on Feb. 10. The Pats started their OTAs on March 24; the Giants a week later. That means the Patriots had 36 days to rest and let nagging injuries heal. I believe there's a direct link between the amount of soft tissue injuries to linemen and the amount of practice during the offseason. Those guys just aren't supposed to get pulled hamstrings -- they aren't running that fast.
There's a misconception out there that OTAs are a picnic; that we're out there playing around with coloring books. This is the time for fringe guys to impress the coaching staff.
Don't get me wrong, OTAs do serve a meaningful purpose. The classroom work is invaluable for those guys on the roster bubble. The more knowledge they gleam off the field translates to on the field.
The good ol' days weren't all great either. Instead of the 21 days of training camp, we had six weeks of training camp -- a week for the rookies; another week for rookies and players with 2-3 years of service time and then the remainder of the time with the entire team.
But I'd still take 1987. The offseason evolution has gone a few steps too far.
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