What happens on the field with the 75 or so players who will take part in the Chiefs OTA sessions starting Monday is what’s important in the big picture.
But for these first sessions, the attention will focus on the little picture, in this case the players who are not there. Will unhappy Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters (left) set aside his feelings and take part? After missing the veteran’s mini-camp before the NFL Draft, will LB Mike Vrabel become part of the Chiefs for the first time?
OTAs are a name the NFL and the NFL Players Association came up with to describe these off-season sessions. They are in essence practices, where players are allowed to wear helmets, but no pads. There is not supposed to be contact as the players practice, although that’s nearly impossible, especially when the offensive and defensive linemen start getting after each other.
Under NFL rules, teams are allowed to have 14 of these practices in the off-season, along with a mandatory three-day mini-camp. All of those sessions for the Chiefs will go down in the next four weeks.
With the practices also comes classroom time, as assistant coaches and players review tape and exercising the mental side of the game.
While the three-day mini-camp June 5-6-7 is mandatory for all players, these OTA sessions are voluntary. But all the players are expected to be there, whether veteran or rookie. Only fourth-round draft choice CB Donald Washington and college free agent LB Corey Smith are not allowed to take part because their schools will not finish the spring semester until the second week of June. Whether players are still attending school or not, the NFL does not want them on the team’s campus until the semester is done on their college campus. It doesn’t matter whether the player is graduating or has dropped out of school. Washington, in fact said he would be graduating from Ohio State in June.
When Waters and Vrabel (right) missed the veteran’s mini-camp, along with since traded TE Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs head coach Todd Haley did not indicate any unhappiness with his missing players. They had all checked in with him, and since the three days of workouts were voluntary, no big deal was made.
That’s probably not going to be the case with the OTAs.
“You start to build some chemistry, some real football chemistry,” said Haley about the OTAs. “They are building chemistry now, working and sweating together. But I think once the line starts working together a bunch, the receivers and quarterbacks and tight ends work together, that type of thing, you start to make some real headway in building a team.
“We’ve had 65 every day (for strength and conditioning) and I’ve been happy about that,” Haley said of the attendance at the workouts. “I think everybody is on board right now. We’ve started to build that foundation with the work that we are doing and we have to continue to understand it’s still the ground floor. We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves in any area.”
Waters situation is known as he supposedly asked the team to trade him back in February after a bad first meeting with Haley. Whether the Pro Bowl guard shows up for these sessions will go a long way in showing how serious is his desire to get out of Kansas City. He understands how important these sessions are for this offensive line to jell with a revamped coaching staff.
Vrabel has been pretty much incognito since a few days after the trade that brought him from New England to Kansas City with QB Matt Cassel. Kansas City media types have tried to reach him, so far without success. Whether his absence to this point is a sign of unhappiness, or simply a slow start in his new surroundings, will make his attendance at these sessions very instructive.
There should be close to 80 players on the field for the OTAs. The teams all operate with an 80-man roster limit, but unsigned draft choices do not count in that total until they’ve signed a contract. So, the Chiefs could have as many as 88 players on the field. But right now they have 86 on the roster and minus Washington and Smith that makes 84 eligible for the sessions.
It would be a normal reaction for a first-time head coach and a new coaching staff to be anxious to finally work closely with the players on the nuts and bolts of the offense and defense. Haley admits that he and his staff have talked about making sure they don’t dump too much on the players too fast.
“We’ve had some talks about that, and there have been a lot of coaches who have done it different ways in different places,” Haley said. “Some of these guys have been on west coast (offense) teams and it’s training camp year round.
“That’s never been the way I was taught, thus it’s not the way I believe. This time of the year is pull back, hold your horses, there will be plenty of time. If we are not in condition and we are not strong, which keeps us healthy. We can’t compete no matter how many great ideas the geniuses have. We’ve got to be in shape and we can’t lose sight that it’s the off-season.
“Our first five OTAs, then we’ll start the veteran mini-camp and it will be those five (practices) repeated and then we’ll continue on and then when training camp starts, we’ll start back with those five practices. They’ll have a pretty good basis of knowledge on what we are doing.”
While the classroom work and practice time increases, the strength and conditioning program won’t go away. Haley and his coaching staff have seen improvement, but they need to see more.
“We are going to try to get stronger through the OTAs,” Haley said. ‘The lifting is going to stay at a high level. The running might go down a little more because obviously we are going to be doing more on the field.
“Everybody is getting excited now; this is when it gets rolling. It’s when you start installing. It’s when it has that real football feel, the daily grind.”
It all starts on Monday.
ANOTHER ADDITION TO THE CHIEFS SCOUTING DEPARTMENT
There’s no official announcement from the Chiefs, but Ryan Poles has been hired as a personnel department assistant.
At least that was the story in his hometown newspaper in Canandaigua, New York. Poles was an offensive lineman at Boston College and went to training camp last year as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Bears. When he was released by Chicago at the end of the pre-season, he did not know where his football career would take him.
But then came the opportunity to work for the Chiefs and GM Scott Pioli.
“One other thing that will be nice about this job will be the ability to learn from the best,” Poles said. “Mr. Pioli will be a good guy to work for. Before Kansas City, he was involved in putting together that first Super Bowl team in New England. This will be a good place to start my career. He will be an excellent person to learn the job from.
“No doubt my path to the NFL has taken a different direction, but a good one. There are a lot of people looking to get into this business. I was just fortunate enough to have had the right people to help me.”
Should you want to know more about Ryan Poles, here’s the link.
SAY HAPPY BIRTHDAY …
Born on May 18, 1963 in Murfreesboro, North Carolina was LB Tim Cofield. Signed as a college free agent, Co field played in three seasons (1986-88) and appeared in 43 games with 34 starts. He had 8.5 sacks.
Born on May 18, 1960 in Ansonia, CT was QB Sandy Osiecki. He was signed coming out of Arizona State, and appeared n four games in the 1984 season. Osiecki hit seven of 17 passes for 64 yards and one interception.
Born on May 18, 1947 in New York was WR Dave Smith. He appeared in two games with one start with the Chiefs in 1973, catching two passes for 20 yards.
Born on May 18, 1973 in Terrell, Texas was CB Darrius Johnson. He appeared in two games during the 2003 season.