Mistakes are sinful, especially so when repetitious. This is the time of year for learning and building a foundation, and each player is expected to have a complete grasp of what's happening in the meeting room and practice field. If he fails to do so, he's essentially wasting everyone else's time.
"It's really an intense mental game," said cornerback Terrence Wheatley. "You've got to focus every day. It's not a whole ton of physical stuff. Obviously, we're still out here running and working hard, but definitely the mental aspect is what you work on during OTA's."
During these sessions, the minor details are of major significance. Running backs have been chewed out for poor footwork. Wide receivers and tight ends have been verbally assaulted for the slightest imperfections in route running. And so on and so forth.
Games aren’t won and lost in June, no. But good practices in June most certainly lead to better practices when training camp is underway in late July and August. And those sessions carve out the model for success in the regular season.
It's part of the reason why third-year linebacker Jerod Mayo showed up to the first week of OTAs to watch practice. Mayo was one of a plethora of veterans whom Bill Belichick excused from the first week of practice — it was geared toward the less-experienced and newly-signed players — but Mayo attended for learning purposes.
"We're just out here trying to get the mental part down and just work at that," Mayo said.
While the veterans are using these sessions as a refresher course, the younger players on the roster bubble are trying to gain the knowledge they hope will give them an edge. That makes this time of year a little more stressful for the guys competing for jobs, and the mental game is always a difference maker.
"There are a lot of people who are built for this game physically, but not a lot of them are made for it mentally," said second-year defensive lineman Ron Brace. "I just had to get my mind up strong and catch up to everybody else, because they’ve played in this game for a long time. People coming from different colleges had their own ways of teaching players how to play. Before, I just had to know my gap. Now, I have to know what I’m doing, what my teammates are doing, what my opponents are doing. I had to put in a lot of work there. It was a real big shock right there. I have to pick it up."
And just when they think they might have it, the coaches flip the script. It's part of the ever-changing NFL world where teams are always trying to stay a step ahead. To do that, they've got to be on point right now.
"It's a long, drawn-out process," said linebacker Shawn Crable. "Once you think you get comfortable with it, they throw some different stuff at you. They change something you feel like you know, and you've got to know it a different way. It's a study process, getting in your book at night and coming in early."
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