'The Spring Time' - Ramon Foster on football in shorts


Football season is one of the most exciting times of the year. America is just totally different when football season rolls around. Spouses either unite or have an unwritten agreement about the amount of time and devotion that will be given to ones team.  Tailgating, buying the year's new merchandise, trying to convince that one friend that this year will the "the year" that "my team" will win it all. 

There is nothing better than football season. I get chills myself just thinking about opening day.

The Steelers participate in Day 6 of the 2015 Organized Team Activities at the Steelers practice facility.

But before the season kicks off, there are many phases that go into making that Super Bowl team.

The one particular phase I am sharing my thoughts on is OTAs, organized team activities. It's that time on NFL calendar for voluntary work, when teams go through plays and just tweak the small things they want to improve before going to training camp.  Young guys and rookies get a chance to grasp as much of the playbook as they can and just learn as much as they possibly can.  OTAs are where a young, inexperienced player can ask as many questions from a veteran player or coach. Gaining that knowledge in May and June is a big key to making the team. 

In training camp, there is no time for correcting mistakes time and time over.  By then, the physical part of the game is included and it needs to be on display daily and with no wasted reps. 

OTA practices are in shorts with no shoulder protection and although the competitive side of guys comes out, it's not a time to show everyone you are the next James Harrison or Mean Joe Greene. There will be plenty of time for that later. There are rules that prohibit organizations from having an all out battle of the turf.  Those rules were set in the new CBA to help guys overall health and somewhat lengthen careers. 

I love seeing the wide-eyed and lost looks on the young guys in the first practices. They just don't know what to expect and neither did I in my first year. Everyone is excited to see what the draft picks and undrafted free agents will look like and if they will be able to make it in this league. It's understood that no one can make the team in the spring when we are just in shorts. Sure you can put some good stuff on film and wet the coach's whistle, but that's to be taken with a grain of salt. Football is played with shoulder pads and full protection. During OTAs, you see that guy who we like to label as "South Side All-Pro." I'm sure every team has one or two.  This is a guy who puts on a coaching clinic type practice, but goes missing in training camp like a David Copperfield illusion.

When you practice in shorts, guys don't have to worry about taking a hit crossing the middle of a defense or even quarterbacks getting sacked. The defense tags off on the offensive player and let the skill players finish their run for conditioning and to learn how to chase down the runner. For an offensive lineman, it's about sharpening your unit and being sure that you are on the same page with the other guys you work with and fine tuning communication at the line of scrimmage to make sure five guys move and work as one. 

Quarterbacks get a chance to get on the same page with their receivers, running backs, and tight ends. The throwing and catching and timing of routes is something that is focused on before training camp arrives. It's truly teaching and learning season. 

Teams enter OTAs with simple goals in mind, and I think every team's main goal is to make it through with no major injuries and have their team pointing in the right direction going into camp.  Reports and articles come out by the masses about who is looking amazing, who's the long shot to make the team and who's looked bad.  The truth of the matter is, good and bad impressions are made for some but the true test comes when the pads are put on and you are fighting for one of the 53 spots on the opening day roster. 

I love being around my fellow linemen and teammates during the springtime because football is a little lighter and it's usually your first time being around the guys again. Football in shorts is designed to keep your wheels spinning and your mind on the task ahead. You have to love it even if it's not quite the real thing, yet.

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