If you were to ask most every NFL player on any team on any other season, you'd probably hear griping from said players about the optional practices that take place this time of year. First of all, the word "optional" doesn't necessarily apply to these practice sessions, as anyone who misses them is usually placed under the media's microscope. Additionally, NFL veterans usually covet as much time off from football as possible because of the toll the sport takes on their bodies.
Not the case with 2012 Cincinnati Bengals. Last season, the team was forced to conduct these OTAs without the watchful eyes of their coaches because of the CBA-induced lockout. We saw a number of Bengals players step up and lead these sessions, and that's where rookies like Andy Dalton and A.J. Green "earned their stripes". Jay Morrison of The Dayton Daily News notes that the Bengals are enjoying the "organized" part of the 2012 "organized team activities" (OTAs).
Two team leaders weighed in on the positive vibes surrounding this year's OTAs. Defensive tackle Domata Peko, organizer of 2011's OTAs, and one of the team's captains, notes the importance of this year's sessions in a non-lockout season:
"It was fun to do those player-organized activities last year, but I think (defensive coordinator Mike) Zimmer coaches a lot better than me," defensive tackle Domata Peko said.
"It feels a lot better to have all of our guys here with our coaches being able to teach us, especially for the young guys," he continued.
"Their eyes are like deers in the headlights, so we try to show them the ropes and take them under our wings like the veterans did for me when I was a younger rookie."
If that doesn't scream "team leader", I don't know what does. Linebacker Rey Maualuga talked about how the OTAs benefit the team, especially in 2012 with a full offseason:
"This year, with the new (collective bargaining agreement), everyone is here now," linebacker Rey Maulauga said.
"It gives everybody an opportunity to get reps in, and the mental reps for the rookies to be on top of things so that when camp comes, it’s basically re-do the playbook until it’s second nature."
One of the other unsung leaders on the Bengals roster from the offensive unit, center Kyle Cook, echoed Peko's sentiments about this year's OTAs. Aside from the on-field camaraderie that is built through these early versions of Training Camp, Cook talked to Morrison about the off-field relationships that are built in this early part of the season.
"You spend a lot of time together after work," center Kyle Cook said. "You go over to each other’s house and barbecue or go to the movies or go bowling and just get to know the guys on a personal level.
"We just try to get them out of here and let them know they don’t have to go back to a hotel room and sit around all day and feel homesick. It’s a family atmosphere."
This is a stark contrast to Bengals teams of years past where the focus was around players obsessed with individual achievements and personal recognition. Though it's "player speak", these quotes are still just another example of the quality players that are assembled on the 2012 roster.