How to Decipher OTA Reports

Florham Park, NJ- Every year I get asked the same questions once OTAs begin, how did so and so look? How about this other guy? Did anyone standout at this position or that position?

I’m not complaining, I fully understand why these questions are asked the problem is most of the time there’s no answer for me to give. Since these same questions are raised every year I figured I’d write a detailed explanation about OTAs and why you hear so much about the quarterbacks, cornerbacks, wide receivers, offensive and defensive lines and so little about the other positions.

Obviously the quarterbacks are always going to be among the most discussed groups, especially considering the Jets quarterback situation these past two years, but it’s not just because they’re quarterbacks and the position is so important, it’s also because it’s the easiest position to judge in OTAs. How did the throw look? Was it complete, incomplete or picked off? Of course it’s never actually that simple, but it’s usually reported as if it was.

Charting passes in camp is a fundamentally flawed practice, drops or mistakes from receivers aren’t put in the equation neither is the situation (second and seven or third and 15 makes a big difference), yet people obsess over numbers with little context. Making matters worse is, since there’s no tackling, plays continue even after there would’ve been a sack, how does that fit into the charting process? Still while charting passes in camp doesn’t tell the whole story it’s easier to see judge how a quarterback threw the ball than it is to breakdown how a safety handled his coverage on a specific play or how a running back looked when no real contact is allowed.

Mark Sanchez threw three interceptions in today's OTAs, but he still appeared to have a better grasp of the offense than Geno Smith. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

If you just look at the fact that Mark Sanchez threw three picks today you’re probably thinking he looked terrible all day and Geno Smith will certainly beat him out for the starting gig, but again it’s not that simple. Sanchez actually looked really sharp for most of the day, but he did go full Sanchez on us and had three inexplicable mistakes that simply can’t be tolerated. Problem is even with those three picks Sanchez still seemed to have a much better feel for the offense than Smith does right now.

There’s absolutely no question Smith throws a better pass and has more physical talent, but Sanchez seems to have a better grasp on the offense right now. If Smith can learn the playbook inside and out and execute the plays on the field he should win the job, but right now he has a ways to go to catch up to Sanchez. Of course if Sanchez continues the brain farts Smith could get the job by default because there’s no way Rex Ryan is going to put up with multiple turnovers a game this season. It’s important to remember today was just the third day of full roster practices, and they are implementing a new offense, so mistakes are to be expected at this juncture (especially for Smith who made his share of mistakes as well), but obviously it feels different with Sanchez.

The issues with Sanchez isn’t with how he practices, he tends to look good in practices, it’s with the self-destructive play during games. It’d be easy to write off today’s three picks as simple mistakes adjusting to a new offense if only we hadn’t watched Sanchez his entire career. The Jets would like to name a stater sooner than later (they’d prefer to give the starter most of the training camp reps) and it certainly feels like Sanchez is in the lead right now, but if he continues to have multiple turnovers per day he may just lose the job more than Smith would win it. It’s easy to say the Jets should start Smith because we have seen enough of Sanchez but this battle can only be won in practice and Sanchez has the advantage there, but once the games start Sanchez could throw that advantage away with a handful of turnovers.

“Yes, it is, absolutely (disappointing). It’s a good thing the defense made some plays, but no I’d rather (have) him not turn the ball over once, obviously.” Rex Ryan said, “It’s funny because you can look at the practice, and you guys were out there and you saw it, he did a lot of great things, and then those negatives things, but at the end of the day, that’s what gets you beat. We have to do a better job of eliminating those turnovers. The quarterbacks, as I’ve said before, whether it be a running back, whoever, we have to protect the football.”

There’s no tackling allowed in OTAs and no real contact for most of the players but there are two position groups on each side of the ball to which these rules do not apply, the offensive line and receivers on offense and defensive line and corners on defense. The lines physically battle it out during positional drills and 7-on-7’s and if a defender is disruptive or an offensive lineman looks particularly unmovable it tends to get noticed by everyone.

On the outside, receivers and corners get extremely competitive and even when the drill is supposed to be run only around half-speed it usually escalates quickly, so when a corner constantly shuts down receivers or a receiver consistently beats a corner it tends to receive quite a bit of attention. The corners won’t tackle the receivers if the pass is completed, but they’ll definitely compete full steam to stop the pass from being complete in the first place and the receiver wants to win just as bad. It’s a one-on-one battle on the outside and the coaches can tell them to let up all they like, it’s not happening because neither one wants to lose.

These positions are easy for reporters to judge by observing from the sidelines, but judging linebackers who aren’t allowed to tackle is much trickier. It’s tough to tell how a linebacker or safety looked, especially since we have no clue what their called coverage is and if they’re actually in the right spot or not, a safety could make what looks like an excellent pick but for all we know he was out of position and the quarterback or receiver made a mistake and true, that’s always the case but it’s easier to judge in games when you can see the whole play develop from above and you can use deductive reasoning to figure out who made the mistake.

Tight ends and slot receivers don’t get jammed at the line and the coverage over the middle isn’t nearly as fierce competitively as on the outside since there’s not as much of a one-on-one battle type feel to it. In OTAs slot receivers and tight ends often get free releases and don’t face the threat of getting crushed by a defender as they try to make the catch so it’s hard to say Jeremy Kerley looked great for catching a few five-to-seven yard slants and running past defenders playing two-hand touch (because it doesn’t matter if they get two hands on him or not, either way he’s running into the end zone).

Last year Stephen Hill and Quinton Coples stood out almost every day in practice. Hill would line up on the outside against either Cromartie or Revis and he would find ways to beat the All-Pro corners and make a bunch of outstanding catches. Coples made his impression from the inside, every time he lined up inside or made a move inside he would use his powerful frame to create leverage and explode into the backfield. This all happened at full speed and with players physically battling each other, the contact makes the results more transferable to game day than the positions avoiding contact.

So when you hear about Sheldon Richardson looking insanely quick and agile as he beats the offensive line into the backfield it should mean more than when you hear about how good running back John Griffin has looked during mini-camps (Griffin impressed me last year and even some this year, I just don’t know if it means anything because there’s no tackling).

Richardson was extremely disruptive in rookie camp, but today he flashed his disruptive quickness against the first team offense. The Richardson pick was questioned by most at first, but it seems people are beginning to understand the logic behind it. With the power of Coples (who spent most of his day lined up on the line with his hand in the dirt despite the reports of him moving to 3-4 OLB) and Wilkerson, Richardson is a perfect compliment. On a few different occasions Richardson made one quick twitch move and found himself in theĀ  quarterbacks face within a split-second of the ball being snapped and he was doing this against Nick Mangold and company.

Occasionally you’ll hear about a safety or a linebacker looking good in OTAs, but that’s usually more of a right place at the right time thing, basically it’s a mirage. Players at these positions can only look so good, the can however look really bad as is the case with David Harris. It’s no secret Harris’ production has slipped the past couple of years and today he looked like he picked up right where he left off last year, a step slow and out of position.

On one play running back Chris Ivory caught a pass from Smith in the flat and hit Harris with a hard cut-back that just about broke the linebacker in half as he feel to the ground and Ivory scooted past him. It was an excellent move by Ivory and it was good to see him catch the ball, but the story of that play was about Harris looking bad not Ivory looking great.

For many of the positions that’s the best the players can do, look good up to a point but mainly avoid looking bad, for other positions it’s much easier for us to judge, even if we aren’t judging correctly. Once the practices pick up to full-speed all-around and tackling is allowed you can start to accurately evaluate the safeties, linebackers, running backs, etc., but in OTAs it’s all about the lines, corners, receivers and quarterbacks.

Other News and Updates:

Rex Ryan offered no further comment on Mike Goodson’s status with the courts or the team saying he’s going to let the statement the team already released stand as his comment for now. However Goodson did appear in a Morris County courtroom today and entered a not-guilty plea.

Ryan also declined to comment on David Garrard’s situation saying he wants to wait until all the paperwork has been officially filed for his retirement before commenting. Garrard has said the Jets offered him a coaching job with the team with the hopes of him sticking around as a coach/mentor for Smith. Garrard wasn’t sure if he would accept the job, but today Smith told reporters Garrard gave him his phone number before leaving and told him to call him anytime he needs anything.

Stephen Hill had some swelling in his knee and was held out of practice. Santonio Holmes was in attendance but was also held out of practice as he is still recovering from the Lisfranc injury he suffered last year. Ryan said he doesn’t expect Holmes to be ready to practice until sometime during training camp. Holmes didn’t talk today, but he did look noticeably bigger. His arms, chest and shoulders looked like he bulked up, we’ll see if it impacts his speed/quickness but it’s not like he pulled a David Boston on us, he should be fine.

Jordan White and Clyde Gates also missed practice with minor injuries.

Sanchez and Smith certainly got the lion’s share of reps at quarterback today but in a bit of a surprise Matt Simms definitely got more reps than Greg McElroy, for whatever that’s worth.

One Response to “How to Decipher OTA Reports”

  1. D.Port Says:

    Nice article. Although we understand the point of your article. We all still want to know what happens in OTAs. We want to form our own opinions, like you said, even if they are wrong. Thanks for the post.