It's easy as an observer to dismiss the value of OTAs. As an outsider looking in you see the movie nights, the team bowling excursions and it's easy to get a little jaded thinking this is little more than glorified schmoozing. In the lexicon of terms I detest ‘team building' is right up there with ‘synergy' and ‘employees must wear pants'- truth is, there is method to the seeming madness, and it's one of the reasons I can't help but feel that when the dust settles it's these OTAs that could be more valuable than training camp itself.
Taking a step back you see two sides of the offseason coin: The ‘organized team activities' have some football, but mostly it's about building chemistry. While it's easy to take a shot at the players and say "They're professionals- they should be ready to play no matter what", the truth is that teamwork isn't built over night; especially when you're looking to change the culture of a franchise the way Ron Rivera did last year. Getting 53 guys to pull in the same direction isn't always easy, and it's always easy to see the players around the league who think they know better than their coaches. Here it's important to take stock of the attendance. Many veterans won't have clauses giving them bonuses for OTAs, but if they turn up it shows willingness, and a continuation of buying into the system. I can't think of the last time a team won a Superbowl with lackluster OTA attendance.
More after the jump
In a couple of months when the Panthers hit the sweltering heat of Spartanburg everything turns to football. Players will have had their playbooks for a couple of months (they'll likely receive them this week), and the entire focus will be about installing the systems for the 2012 season. Between the heat, the two-a-days and heightened emotions of scores of players fighting for a few roster spots this can lead to things spilling over, and situations getting out of control; I don't think I need to re-hash Smitty v. Lucas. These are the times those early OTAs are important. Instilling chemistry, teamwork, and culture can help diffuse these high-emotion situations before they start. Sure, it won't always work, but it might make a couple of guys think twice.
Training camp prepares players for week one. It gives them the game plan, the system, and the X's and O's. The OTAs prepare the players for week twelve- when people are hurting, banged up; nursing injury and some are losing focus. Those are the times a team needs to rally together, support each other, and lean on that chemistry that will start to be built today. Deride ‘team building' if you must, but in the case of the NFL these activities really have value. Now, if I could only find my pants...
The Carolina Panthers OTAs start today in Charlotte. These are not open to the public, but we will have updates of anything pertinent as they continue.