The first time Ron Rivera became a head coach was 2011, the year of the NFL lockout. He didn't meet his Panthers team until training camp. Now, in his first season with Washington, Rivera is again unable to spend the offseason with his new team.
"It's not uncharted territory for me," Rivera said in a video call Tuesday.
Rivera is drawing on his experience from 2011 in some areas—though the circumstances of the global coronavirus pandemic are vastly different. Right now, he and his staff are preparing for a virtual offseason program that will be conducted via Zoom, and a draft that he'll participate in from a basement workspace he'd originally set up for his daughter. Similar to 2011, he's not sure when he and his team will be able to be on the field together, but what's different in this case is that timeline is largely out of the league and players' control.
Already, Rivera sees a few ways in which this unusual offseason could tangibly affect his team and its approach in 2020.
1) Kyle Allen could have an advantage over Dwayne Haskins
The QB situation in Washington is an interesting one. The team drafted Dwayne Haskins No. 15 overall in last year's draft, and the former Ohio State QB started seven games for Washington last season, improving as the year went on. While there was speculation that Rivera might bring Cam Newton to Washington, or even draft Tua Tagovailoa, the move the team made (so far) was to trade for Kyle Allen in late March. Rivera said that the altered offseason is part of the reason Washington sent a fifth-round pick to his old team for Allen, who started 13 games for Rivera in Carolina after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2018. Scott Turner, Allen's QBs coach the past two seasons, is Rivera's OC in Washington.
"If we were told, hey, you've got two weeks to go, I would feel very comfortable with Kyle," Rivera said, "because here's a guy that knows the system, has been in the system and could handle it for us for a period of time, and we'll see how that goes. That's kind of the thought process behind it for us."
In 2011, Newton was a rookie, and Rivera said their post-lockout approach was to skew the reps toward the No. 1 overall pick once to make sure he was ready for opening day. But Rivera, who did not draft Haskins, clearly sees this situation differently. Rivera described Allen as "a guy that can be very competitive for us; that's gonna come in and compete and push Dwayne. And whether he wins the job or he ends up as the backup, I know who Kyle Allen is."
It's impossible to know at this point if or how the 2020 season will be affected by ongoing social-distancing measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, but with the summer Olympics in late July/early August already canceled, it's very possible NFL training camps could be shortened and condensed. "If that was the situation," Rivera continued, "Kyle would have would have a leg up on the situation, most certainly."
This also adds additional context to why Allen may have made more sense for Washington than Newton, who was released by the Panthers last month. Newton is still returning to form from his season-ending foot surgery, so he wouldn't have been a sure thing to plug in and start in the case of a curtailed preparation period.
2) A cut-off time to make trades on the clock
Rivera's home draft-day set-up will include different computer monitors for the team's draft board and for communication with other Washington decision-makers as well as the NFL. This will be his first draft together with Washington VP of player personnel Kyle Smith, and Rivera said they have already discussed how they will handle the unique communication hurdles of this year's decentralized draft. One result may be fewer draft-night trades.
"One of the things that we've said is, hey, at the very beginning of a time clock, if we don't have anything going, we're not going to waste time," Rivera said. "You don't want to take the chance that you've got four minutes to go and all of a sudden, now somebody starts calling."
Rivera said they haven't worked out exactly what the cut-off time will be—"Is it is it going to be two minutes left on the clock? Is it going to be four minutes left on the clock?"—but that will be a new consideration as a result of the different circumstances this year. The league is working on rules to allow for an exemption for teams to get an extra minute or two to be able to finalize trades, but there's a league-wide sense that there may very well be less activity while teams are on the clock to avoid any communication snags.
"If it gets to that four-minute (mark) in the first round, do we want to continue? Do we want to just move on? What do we want to do? How do we handle it?" Rivera said. "These are all things that we're discussing, and really just putting pen to paper in terms of, these are the rules that we're going to follow as we go into the draft."
3) Staying ready for whenever work can resume
This is a lesson Rivera has carried over from 2011, when there was no certain timeline for when the lockout would end and players could report to team facilities. Rivera has been adjusting his schedule weekly, shortening it according to changing circumstances. This past Monday was supposed to be the start of the offseason program for teams with new head coaches, and now as the league and the players' association work out terms for how to proceed with a virtual offseason, his focus has shifted to preparing for that.
As the first coach hired during this cycle, Rivera has had the most time of any new staff, plus he has his nine years of experience in Carolina. He said the playbooks are completed for offense, defense and special teams; the teaching tapes are also done for offense and special teams, and he and his staff are finalizing the defensive tape, so that they’ll be able to begin virtual installations, when allowed by the mutually agreed upon rules.
"I think it's going to be it's kind of interesting," Rivera said, "that we're going to be going back to the basics of fundamentals of scouting and coaching."
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