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When is it time to remove the voluntary drama from the Steelers’ OTAs?

Steelers players have the option to skip the annual OTA sessions held during a three-week period at the team's South Side complex. But while the players aren't required to attend, this doesn't prevent people from getting upset over any absences.

Divisional Round - Jacksonville Jaguars v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The Steelers just concluded their annual 3-week OTAs (Organized Team Activities) on Thursday and will now prepare for their yearly 3-day minicamp which kicks off this Tuesday.

What’s the difference between OTAs and minicamp?

There really isn’t much of a difference. Like OTAs, minicamp is a 3-day session in which Steelers players run around the South Side facilities in their helmets and shorts, hammering away at those fundamentals, while also becoming familiar with any new wrinkles thrown into the playbooks of defensive coordinator Keith Butler and new offensive coordinator, Randy Fichtner.

The only difference is my official stance will change from “I don’t care” to “offended,” if every single Steelers player isn’t at minicamp. Why? Because minicamp is mandatory, meaning NFL players are required to show up and punch the clock.

In case you didn’t get it by now, OTAs, on the other hand, are voluntary activities which NFL players aren’t required to attend.

While my official stance on Steelers’ OTA attendance is always “I don’t care,” that’s not the case for a lot of people such as the fans, the coaches and — this year — Reggie Bush, who criticized the team’s culture and desire after Antonio Brown missed several sessions because he said he didn’t want to catch passes from the backup quarterbacks.

The reason Brown wasn’t around to catch passes from the backups was because quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also decided to make his OTA participation a hit-or-miss proposition.

What does this all mean? Does this mean the Steelers lack the necessary focus and drive to compete on the football field in 2018? Is it just a bad look for a team that went one-and-done in the postseason back on January 14?

You can draw your own conclusions, but you won’t be forced to share because, just like OTAs, opinions are optional.

Isn’t it silly that NFL players and their fans engage in this little dance every year around this time?

OTAs may be voluntary, but that doesn’t prevent the absentees from capturing the headlines, headlines attached to stories that often include passive-aggressive quotes from coaches and teammates.

Seriously, it’s like being told by your significant other that it’s perfectly fine to go hit some golf balls while she entertains the family friends who are visiting for the weekend,

But then you have this text exchange three hours later:

”I really could have used your help today.”

”Honey, you told me to go. Do you want me to come home?”

”It’s fine.”

”What’s wrong?”


”I can come home right now.”

”Never mind.”

Star running back Le’Veon Bell predictably hasn’t been around for any off-season activities, including every single OTA session. The ironic part of Brown being called out for his absences was that he did the same thing to Bell at the onset of these voluntary activities.

Again, you can attach any meaning you like to players missing OTAs.

In Bell’s case, it could be because he’s a selfish jerk who’s trying to send a message to the Steelers about his ongoing contract dispute.

In the case of Brown and Roethlisberger, you could come to the conclusion that they’re just being me-first divas.

If it’s someone like former Steeler Troy Polamalu, who rarely attended OTAs, well, you probably didn’t care since he was just an awesome dude.

If we’re being honest, Brown doesn’t need OTAs and neither does Roethlisberger.

As for Bell, his absence is just one less chance he’ll suffer a non-contact knee injury.

Obviously, the people who benefit the most from any sort of off-season football — even training camp — are rookies and those fighting to stay in the league. They’re the ones who need the reps. They’re the ones who need to hammer away at those fundamentals. They’re the ones who need to absorb any new wrinkles thrown into the playbook.

But I get that people might become upset over some members of a team not taking part in a team activity.

However, there is one way to avoid this annual wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over OTA attendance.

Make it mandatory.

Let’s face facts, OTAs are just a way for NFL coaches to compensate for shorter and less physical training camps. They’re an unofficial way to engage in some extra evaluating and team-bonding during the off-season.

Fine, if that’s the case, work out a deal. Compromise.

Combine OTAs and minicamp, shave off a few days, and make it mandatory that every single player be in attendance for three weeks of football in shorts.

I might be on the side of the players in a lot of cases, but I certainly wouldn’t lose much sleep if their six-month off-season was interrupted by a few weeks of football in shorts.

This will obviously have to be collectively bargained when the next union deal expires, but I think something could be worked out.

After all, as a particular taboo, hot-button topic taught us recently, when you give an NFL player an option, he’s not always going to choose the one you want him to.