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Tim and Mike: What to watch for during organized team activities

Posted May 22, 2013

Tim and Mike discuss the major difference between OTAs and team workouts and the NFL's plan to change the timing of the combine and draft

The NFL’s offseason is shifting gears and making news. The Lions have their first round of OTA’s this week, the NFL is moving the Combine and draft back, and sources say the Lions are in the planning stages of creating their own college bowl game, beginning in 2014.

Let's start with the OTAs. How are they different than the other workouts, and what should fans want to see?

Mike: It’s easy to answer the second part. Fans should want to see how comfortable Reggie Bush looks in the offense. Immediately after last season, when it was clear that he would leave Miami and hit the free agent market, it was projected that Detroit was a natural landing spot, and that he’d be an ideal fit for the offense.

Reggie BushRB Reggie Bush (Photo: C. Wywrot/Detroitlions.com)

There’s no tackling or contact in the OTAs, but you still can see how players move, and that’s what I want to see out of Bush, both running the ball and as a receiver.

Tim: Competition. Competition. Competition.

It was sort of anticlimactic around this time last year with 21 of 22 starters returning from a playoff team in 2011.

Oh, how things can change in just a year. Fast forward 365 days and three-fifths of the starting offensive line from 2012 is gone and there are a number of spots on defense up for grabs, too. Who steps up?

Who takes over the six or seven open starting spots won’t be determined until the end of August, but the seeds will be planted over the next three weeks.

As for the bowl game, it makes sense for Ford Field and the Lions both to associate themselves with a higher profile game featuring two teams from “power” conferences, including the Big Ten. Higher profile means added revenue.

Mike: Right on about the competition. The offense in particular was so settled last year that there was a feeling it was ready to play a game on opening day. Not so, this year, with the changes up front you mentioned and the addition of Bush.

And look at the defense. Glover Quin comes in at safety next to Louis Delmas. Ashlee Palmer gets first crack at outside linebacker, with the departure of Justin Durant. And Jason Jones and Ziggy Ansah are the new starters at defensive end.

We haven’t mentioned a new kicker, punter and return specialist.

Tim: It should be fun to watch how it all shakes out. I truly believe that competition breed’s success, and the Lions were far too complacent last year coming off a playoff appearance.

Ziggy AnsahDE Ziggy Ansah (Photo: C. Wywrot/Detroitlions.com)

All of these position battles should make all individuals involved better, which, in turn, should benefit the Lions in the long run. There are vets looking over their shoulders at hungry young players who are trying to get on the field. That’s how a successful organization should operate. May the best players win.

Mike: Winning’s the name of the game, and I believe in winning by any means possible. If I were a player, the name plate on the back of my jersey would be “Machiavelli.”

As these battles develop through the offseason and into training camp, I wouldn’t be too quick to turn over key positions to young players. There is value in experience, but youth must be served, too, and nowhere on the roster do the Lions have more youth than in the secondary. Darius Slay, Chris Greenwood, Jonte Green, Bill Bentley, Don Carey, Amari Spievey and Louis Delmas are all 26 or younger.

There will be some good battles for playing time and roster spots in that group.

Before we move on too much further, I keep waiting for you to explain the difference between the OTAs and the regular offseason workouts.

Tim: Let me enlighten you grasshopper.

In phase three of the offseason training program, teams are allowed to conduct 10 OTA practices. There’s still no live contact, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are permitted.

Basically, we get to see the offense vs. the defense.

It’s always rough in the interior, even when the big boys aren’t in pads, and contact is supposed to be limited. Linemen are just wired that way.

But we also get to see defensive backs competing for football against receivers down the field. As you mentioned above, they’ll be a lot of interest in that.

Let's end how we started. How do the proposed changes to the offseason schedule affect teams in 2014?

Mike: The league is changing the calendar because it wants to keep the NFL in the fans’ minds during the offseason. The plan is for free-agency to start a little earlier in March, move the Combine from February to March – after free-agency -- and hold the draft in May instead of April.

Having the draft in May is supposed to start next year. The other two changes – free-agency and the Combine – are planned for 2015-16.

It’s probably good for some veteran players to have free-agency before the Combine because it gives them a better opportunity to sign with a team.

Moving the draft back shouldn’t really matter in terms of evaluating players. The draft already is a major TV event for the NFL. I don’t see how it can get much bigger.

All in all, it boils down to what former Ravens coach Brian Billick once said. The NFL’s regular season is America’s favorite sport. The offseason is the second favorite.

Tim: It’s an interest concept, in my opinion, to have free-agency before the combine. I wonder if that will change the way teams approach the combine? Instead of taking a broad look at all the participants, will teams take a more focused approach to evaluating prospects who could fill remaining needs because other needs have already been addressed via free-agency?

Probably not, but just a thought.

In the grand scheme of things, the proposed changes shouldn't make a whole lot of difference in the popularity of the sport in the offseason. Football is a juggernaut 365 days a year.

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