The New England Patriots started their OTAs today as the players (in shorts and helmets) start to go through their first organized team workouts for the 2012 season.

While teams have been doing off-season workouts together these are the first real teaching points for the Patriots’ coaching staff and the team can start back again with the basics. While most casual fans breathe a selective cry of “so what?” the answer to if these workouts are important lies within a few important points.

Team Building- This is a very important aspect of any organization not just a professional NFL team. The Patriots have brought in many new free agents, draftees and unsigned rookie free agents. These initial practices are invaluable in showing the new guys how the Patriots conduct business. Everything from team meetings, how practices are conducted, what’s expected of veterans and rookies is spelled out early in the process.

Make no mistake, the Patriots and Bill Belichick value this very highly and this is where it all starts. Building team camaraderie and character begins today…now. Veterans will be looked upon as teachers as well as competitors and with so many coaches switching positions, this time will be invaluable to them to adjust to their new surroundings and different players.

Learn the Playbook- This is a particularly important time for new players to learn the basics…ABCs, walk, crawl, run as we used to say in the military. The coaches will really be stressing the basics here, no exotic plays, formations or blitzes here. It is a chance to start everyone from scratch and learn the playbook inside and out.

Last year’s rookies and free agents were not able to this and had to start training camp from behind the eight ball so to speak. This is a learning time for everyone involved and where the competition comes in is on how fast the new players absorb the material.

Matt Bowen, in his superb daily column in the National Football post today touched on that very thing stating, “For most teams, the entire playbook is installed in shorts. And every team expands and makes adjustments to their playbook in the offseason. Plus, you have time to make mistakes, get back in the film room and detail your technique to fit the demands of the scheme you play in during these OTAs.”

During my career as both a non-commissioned officer and a Commissioned Officer in command of a US Army Special Forces (Green Berets) A-Team, whenever a new member was assigned to the team, we tried to get out into the woods, or jungle (as it were in Panama) for everyone to go over our SOPs (standard operating procedure) for a few days to a week. Even when the new man might be a highly trained veteran coming in from another Special Forces unit (read free agent).

We’d go through our SOPs and it gave everyone time to learn each other’s nuances and quirks so that our team were all thinking and moving as one. Once that was accomplished we’d move on to Immediate Action Drills (IADs) that went over what we as group did when under fire in combat conditions. First, a walk through with no firing, then with blank ammunition then live fire, even when the “new guy” was a proven veteran.

The time to begin learning about someone’s strength’s and weaknesses isn’t when the bullets are flying, for the NFL players the situation is exactly the same. Learn the playbook, and add on more and more as time goes on so that once training camp begins, the only teaching points should be reinforcements and new wrinkles can be added.

Allows Rookies to Compete for 1st time- This is also an important item, these rookie draftees or unsigned free agents will be competing against, albeit in shorts, against NFL players for the first time. They will learn the differences quickly between the college game and life in the NFL.

And more importantly, it will allow the rookies to adjust to the speed of the NFL. For many of these rookies, especially the ones who came from smaller schools or conferences, they may have been the fastest one on their respective team. No longer. Now everyone is fast, the game is faster, run faster, thought much faster. There is the quick and the unemployed. Because if a player can’t think through his progressions fast enough, even fast players will find themselves lagging behind in play on the field.

So OTAs are starting for the Patriots this week, it is an exciting time….why? Well for football fans, that means that training camp is just around the corner in July.