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The Purpose of OTAs

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The Cardinal quarterbacks work out during the organized team activities in 2008.

It's not minicamp, and technically, it's not even supposed to be called "practice."

There's a reason the bulky "organized team activities" – or OTAs – is the name attached to the 14 on-field sessions held over the next four weeks, beginning Tuesday for the Cardinals. There's also a reason the workouts are voluntary. It's all spelled out in the collective bargaining agreement.

Yet that doesn't lower their importance, especially to a coaching staff that underwent a facelift after the season and is trying to build the proper foundation for 2009.

"The more we get to do that, the more we have a better chance of fine-tuning everything we are doing," said new passing game coordinator Mike Miller, who was promoted from receivers coach. "I know it's probably the most overused phrase, but we get everybody on the same page."

The coaching shifts are a big part of the equation. Assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm already had a major hand in the run game so his additional title as run game coordinator doesn't cause changes. But Miller not only has moved up but so too has Bill Davis, who becomes defensive coordinator.

The rookies get extended time with their new team beyond the brief three-day minicamp, while veterans too will try to digest some new verbiage and techniques being taught from now until June 11. Unlike minicamp, in which only a handful of plays where delivered to the players, the coaches install the entire playbook over OTAs.

While the process will be repeated again in training camp, a head start can only help.

"It is a time of year you are allowed to be confused and stressed but a good stress, because tells them they need to be in their playbooks," Davis said. "The OTAs are, in my opinion, far more important (than minicamp) because you are exposed to the entire playbook."

Coaches are careful not to infringe publicly on a player's right not to participate, given the voluntary nature of the work. But the Cardinals usually have good participation because a player falls behind if he skips the work altogether.

Last year, both wide receiver Anquan Boldin and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett did not attend any of the OTAs because they were unhappy with their contracts. Their contract situations have not changed, and after both sat out all five minicamp practices after saying they had hamstring injuries, neither player is expected to show for OTAs.

There might be a couple of other players who miss a day or two, but the vast majority of the roster should attend (No. 1 draft pick Beanie Wells cannot participate because his class at Ohio State doesn't finish until mid-June).

"The level is competition is so great in the NFL, you are crazy if you don't come to these voluntary OTAs," Davis said. "If you are a starter, you give yourself a chance to be a Pro Bowler, because you understand your craft and your position so thoroughly. If you are trying to be a starter or trying to make the team, you are nuts if you are not here because you are gaining knowledge that will help you compete to reach your goals.

"If you are not here, you are behind. I don't care how many years you have been in the system."

Said Miller, "I know the head coach has already said it, 'We coach the guys that are here.' (But) I wish and hope and want everyone to be here because everyone is important."

The developmental process starts in this time frame. No player makes or doesn't make the team strictly because of OTAs, but Miller noted it "builds someone's momentum." (See Breaston, Steve).

That's not the only thing a team can build in the next month, even one that reached the Super Bowl the previous season.

"Coach Whiz says it all the time, 'Chemistry changes every year,' " Miller said. "Every chance we have to work on that together builds team."


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 5/18/09.

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