While there are plenty of 2013-specific storylines heading into the first media-accessible organized team activity, there also are items worth keeping an eye on that apply every year. After all, regardless of what players are present for the on-field sessions, the Patriots have plenty of work to accomplish during their first stretch on the field as a team since last season.
Below are a handful of items that OTAs set out to accomplish:
1. Installation. Before the team hits the field at roughly 10:45 this morning, they'll spend time in the film and meeting rooms preparing for the day ahead. Each OTA will involve what is known as an installation, akin to a chapter of the playbook. Day one was likely fundamental information (some things as simple as who aligns where in the huddle are covered), and as the OTAs progress the team will be able to open up its playbook to deeper chapters. The players will then practice whatever is installed that morning. While OTAs are not mandatory, one of the disadvantages for players who opt not to show up is missing out on this learning period. For some players (e.g. Mike Vrabel), that time wasn't needed to master the playbook. For others, it can set them back.
2. New faces getting acclimated. While Tom Brady and new wide receiver Danny Amendola got ahead of the game by coordinating workouts together earlier this offseason, OTAs mark the first chance for new players and coaches to work together as a group on the field. While players won't wear full pads and contact will be extremely limited, OTAs represent an opportunity for new faces to get to know their teammates and coaches. Different coaches operate in different manners and there's a learning curve involved anytime a player switches teams. The opportunity to see how coaches conduct themselves, understand the tempo of practices and work with their new teammates is critical.
3. Mental reps count too. With 90 players on the roster, there will be certain positions and drills in which a player only earns a repetition or two before the next drill begins. But that's no excuse for players to not be tuned in to how their teammates are performing during a drill, as mental reps are nearly as important as the physical reps during this time of the year. If the linebackers are working on their drops in certain zone coverages, every non-participant should be focusing on the player who is up in the drill to see what he does (or doesn't do) right. When afternoon meetings take place, players will review practice with their coaches and will be expected to talk through each portion of practice and what was to be accomplished during that time.
4. Passing game focus. With minimal contact, it's hard to simulate anything close to a true running play. That doesn't mean that teams will distance themselves from focusing on the running game entirely, but the bulk of practice will likely be geared toward passing plays. We'll likely see 7-on-7 drills (both in the red zone and regular field of play) and team passing plays. Whether they are in pads or not, quarterbacks and receivers can always develop rapport when on the field together; likewise, defensive backs can test their route recognition and reactive athleticism.
5. Communication a key. Communication is fundamental to success for any team, and there will be a heavy emphasis on communication throughout OTAs. Again, the lack of pads will make the on-field session just as much about the mental side of execution, and communication is key to getting a team lined up and make sure that the right call is made. Veterans who have held that role in previous years will be counted on to serve in a similar capacity, while rookies and younger players will be making notes of how on-field leaders go about their craft. The importance of communication extends to coaches too, as we could see either coordinator using a headphone to relay calls to his captain on the field, much like they do in games.
6. Rookies to be sponges. It's as simple as it sounds: Rookies will use this opportunity to learn as much from veterans as they possibly can. The opportunity to work with the older players should be viewed as invaluable by the rookies, who would be well-served to follow the habits of the team leaders.