To the casual fan, the 10 offseason organized team activities sound more like getting the band back together and doing little more than walking around and getting the kinks out of NFL bodies that haven't been abused for five months. Especially given the design of training camp restrictions with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, where players now spend more time standing around than hitting, fans might think players would barely break a sweat at the OTAs.
Far from it.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said that the 10 OTA sessions and full-team minicamp are the de facto training camp of pre-2011 vintage. The days of coaching like Denny Green, Mike Tice and Brad Childress driving players hard during two-a-days (much less the 1984 Mankato Death March of Les Steckel) are over. Fans attend the current training camps more to get autographs and up-close photos of their favorite players rather than seeing what kind of hitter a new linebacker might become.
Implementing schemes and concepts make OTAs the old training camp, contrary to popular belief, it's the time when a lot of the chemistry a team is going to build is born.
"Coach Frazier tells us as a staff and tells the players each week how important these OTAs are – and he's right," Musgrave said. "It's essentially yesteryear's training camp. Nowadays we go to training camp for a week and the following week we start having preseason games. These OTAs are really where we put the team together."
For those who have been around a while, OTAs serve as a chance to reunite with old friends as well as meeting the new players on the roster. It also serves as a wake-up call to how much personal conditioning a player needs to do.
"We get a lot done at the OTAs," Kevin Williams said. "It's a chance to get to know the new guys on your team, whether they play at your position or not. When a season ends, everyone pretty much goes their separate ways. This is a time when we all get back together and start the job of preparing for the next season. It may not look like we're doing a lot because the regular season is still three months away, but we're laying the foundation here."
In the process, the mindset of a team can change. Offensive lineman Phil Loadholt believes the Vikings being near 100 percent attendance during the OTA period last year set the tone for the amazing comeback the Vikings made from a 3-13 season in 2011 to a 10-6 record and a playoff appearance last year.
"We all came into the OTAs last year with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder," Loadholt said. "We wanted to get rid of the memory of (the previous) year. We wanted to change the direction of the team and I think a lot of that change started when we had our OTAs. It made a difference for us that carried over into the season. It all started there. They were very important."
With all the changes to the Vikings roster over the last two or three years, the rapport players build with one another – both on and off the field – is forged during OTAs and tight end John Carlson is one of those players. While a Minnesota native, he was new to the Vikings players when he came to the team last year as a free agent. He believes the OTAs are a chance for a team vibe to be formed.
"Any time you get everyone together, you can work toward winning games," Carlson said. "It's critical. We have that long break to work out on our own, but this a short period of time where we get to come together as an offense and build that chemistry. That's a hugely important part of being successful as a football team."
To most fans, the Vikings gathering at Winter Park is little more than a summer vacation. But don't fool yourselves. A lot of work is getting done and the 2013 Vikings are looking to build on what the 2012 team has accomplished. It may not seem like an important part of the season to outsiders, but inside Winter Park it's just the opposite.
"It's one of the most important parts," Musgrave said. "The nature of the business is that every year is a new year and every team takes on a different personality because it includes different people. Each year is uniquely different than the one before and this team will develop its own personality. That's what makes the OTAs so valuable – you start to develop that personality for the year now.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings OTAs: ‘Yesteryear's training camp'
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