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Monday, April 19, 2021

Football Frenzy Seeps Into OTAs, Draft & More

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Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.

The Eagles just finished their first session of OTAs. And if you don’t know what OTAs are – what’s the matter with you?

OTAs has become the accepted acronym for Offseason Training … er … Association? Advocates? Appreciation? Oh, that’s right – Activities.

NFL teams have OTAs for decades, but they didn’t call them that. In fact, they didn’t call them anything. It was just a bunch of players coming in to work out together and prepare for the upcoming season. Nobody seemed to think they were a big deal and the media didn’t pay any attention to them at all.

The times have changed, in case you haven’t noticed, and when the Eagles opened their three-day OTA on Tuesday there were about 50 media members present, including reporters from ESPN, the Comcast Network and the NFL Network.

Of course, back in the days when nobody cared about these offseason things there was no ESPN or Comcast Network or NFL Network or anything that ended in .com. These OTAs – which used to be called “minicamps’’ – are a perfect example of the monster that the NFL has become. It’s the most popular sport in America and if the NFL could split itself in half, it would be the two most popular sports in America.

Another example is the NFL draft and what leads up to it, the NFL scouting combine. Just a few years ago, only a handful of reporters would head to Indianapolis for the combine, simply because it was so hard to get hold of NFL personnel people and agents, not to mention the players. In fact, the hotel at which the NFL people stayed would have all the furniture in the lobby removed so reporters wouldn’t even have a place to sit while they scrounge for interviews.

And the draft? It lasted two days and would start on Saturday morning around 8 a.m. And it was a long, dreary affair – the draft used to be 19 rounds, instead of the current seven — to which most people played little attention. They were excited when their team drafted a great player, but they weren’t glued to a television set while Mel Kiper Jr. rambled on about the forward body lean of that running back from Montana State.

Now? The combine is televised, mainly because the NFL now has its own network, cleverly called The NFL Network. They show every 40-yard dash, every squat thrust, and now the NFL warmly welcomes media members to their annual tryout camp.

And the draft? It’s second only to the Super Bowl in fan frenzy and if you don’t believe that, just Google “Mock draft.’’ There used to be five or six of them and now there are five or six thousand … and counting.

We all know that television – or, more to the point, money from television – is what fuels all professional sports, and the NFL is the highest octane available. That’s why when television – in this case, ESPN – decided to really showcase the draft, the format was changed. It was moved to prime time and since the draft can be a long and tedious affair – actually, it’s always a long and tedious affair – it was cut to just the first round on the first day. And the ratings were boffo – 8.1 million viewers tuned into the first round — even though the majority of the viewers never heard of anybody outside of the top 10 players on the board, if that. Did you really know who Bruce Irvin was before the Seattle Seahawks drafted him with the 15th pick in the first round?

In case you didn’t, he’s a defensive end from West Virginia.

Contact Kevin Noonan at knoonan32@aol.com.

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