Organized Team Activities (OTAs) are entirely voluntary. Players are encouraged to attend, but no fines or discipline can come from a player choosing to not attend one, or all, of the team's workouts. Coaches want their players in attendance, but not all players choose to attend. Legendary Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu rarely ever showed up to OTAs, last season Ike Taylor showed up for only a couple workouts and there are several more examples in the recent Steelers history of players missing OTAs.
Those players are gone, and with the new regime of players comes a new mindset towards OTAs, but maybe more important is to a hard-working mentality. This off-season, the Steelers are sporting almost perfect attendance through their first two weeks of workouts. Some might brush this off, but to the players, it matters.
"It shows commitment," guard Ramon Foster told Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Coach Tomlin said the first thing about getting better is showing up. That's what guys are doing."
"Everybody who shows up wants to be here," linebacker Sean Spence said. "They want to get better, and we want to get better as a team. Now, everybody has their personal issues and we are humans outside of football, so you have to expect that as well when people miss."
Mike Tomlin has always been a very motivated coach, and someone who takes everything he can get in regards to working with his players under the restrictions placed on NFL organizations under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), but as former Steelers QB Charlie Batch chimed in when comparing Tomlin to former coach Bill Cowher the two are drastically different in regards to OTAs.
"A lot of the time, he (Bill Cowher) didn't show up," Batch said. "It was an opportunity to allow his assistants to coach. (Ken) Whisenhunt or (Mike) Mularkey would get the offense ready. Cowher's OTAs weren't as intense as Tomlin's."
So for the time being, "football in shorts" is all teams can do, and for the most part the players still find value in these workouts, including the veterans on the team.
"There are more value placed on them because of the restrictions of not being able to get as many practices at training camp," veteran tight end Heath Miller said. "Guys realize it is important to get out onto the field and get work in when you can."
"Anytime you come out here and work as a team, as a unit, it is special," tackle Kelvin Beachum said. "We aren't into who is here and who is not. We are here to get better, and that's what it is all about."
Fans might scoff at OTAs, but the players and coaches certainly aren't. Does it make a direct impact to the team in regards to their play when the games start to count? Probably not, but it gives players repetitions who might not otherwise see those reps in training camp. On top of that, the foundation is being laid for what hopefully is a successful 2015 season for the Steelers.