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Heads 'Spinning,' But Progress Evident in OTAs

Posted Jun 3, 2014

OTAs are a time for players to learn, for coaches to tinker and for the team to discern what might work and what won't in the coming season.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The limits on organized offseason meetings, workouts and practices force teams, players and coaches to work under a ticking clock. With just 13 sessions in offseason Phases 3 and 4 where an offense and defense can face each other, there's a vast amount to install, and little time to do it.

Five OTA practices into the allotment of 13, the progress is evident.

"We’re throwing a lot at the guys right now. We’re probably 75 percent installed in our base defense," said Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio.

"We're close to the same," added Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase. "We're on the same schedule. We kind of work together as far as what's going in personnel-wise, formations and some of our specialty plays. So we're at about the same track."

All of this will be repeated during training camp, so the players don't need to have everything down pat right now.

"We’re trying to cram it all at them and let them hear it all this time, during the OTAs. Then when we get to training camp, they’ve kind of been through it once and hopefully it slows down for them," Del Rio said. "But right now, there are a lot of heads spinning.”

Added Gase: "Our younger guys, for the most part, their (heads are) spinning a little bit. Our older guys do a better job of handling everything."

And "everything" doesn't mean a rehash of the previous year's strategy. Personnel changes dictate some alterations; at times during OTAs, the No. 1 defense has featured six players who were not on the 53-man roster for Super Bowl XLVIII. There are not as many changes on the offense, although the arrival of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in place of the departed Eric Decker leaves room for tweaking.

"It's just -- it's a different kind of dimension for us. I think we've got a group of guys, every guy brings a little different element to our passing game," said Gase. "Not saying what we had before wasn't any good, but it's just a little different element for us."

Even without the arrivals of Sanders, DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and others, Gase and Del Rio would have to fiddle with their units. The offense's record-breaking 2013 season would not shield it from changes, even if it returned intact.

"The hardest thing is, all your games are on tape, so for us, it's 19 regular-season (and playoff) games, and teams will look at that, and they've got a lot of time to prepare for us," said Gase. "You've got to make sure you've got a couple of different things to where you can keep them a little off balance."

And it's not as simple as self-scouting; both Gase and Del Rio have to anticipate the counter-moves that their foes will make this offseason.

"You're guessing a little bit," Gase said. "You're hoping that what you're doing, you do enough research to know that you're going to be right."

And that leads to the other key aspect of organized team activities: tinkering. Personnel groups and points of emphasis change on a daily basis. Some tactics that each unit tries in June will fall so flat that they don't even make it to training camp.

"It's experimental. With our defense right now, we're going to run some things out here that are going to look bad, and we're going to have to take out," Gase said.

"If we see something that might be able to work, we're going to try it," he added later. "And then if it doesn't work, then, you've just got to kind of bite the bullet in the meetings and just be like, 'That's my bad,' and move on."

Of course, it's better to experience this now than in the regular season. In June, on the practice field, failure is relatively inconsequential, and only serves as a learning experience, for both the players and coaches, in discerning what has value for the fall and what gets junked.

"That's the fun part of the offseason. And it's the fun part of training camp, to be able to try some new things and just see how our defense will handle them," Gase said. "And if it turns out to be good, that's when you get excited and you know you can carry it over to the season."