Despite the pandemic that has raged across the United States since March, the Denver Broncos have not moved off their scheduled date for training camp. The Broncos still plan on opening camp on July 28.
For obvious reasons, many media types and fans have shared their misgivings on the subject of camp starting on time. In fact, one of the most common questions we get on the Huddle Up Podcast is 'Will camp start on time? Will there even be an NFL season? If so, will there be fans in the stands?'
While the regular-season opener is still more than two months away, the Broncos' date for training camp is just five weeks out. It'll be here before you know it.
As NFL teams conclude their virtual offseason training programs this week, coronavirus cases have spiked across the country and the Broncos haven't been immune from it as safety Kareem Jackson recently tested positive for COVID-19. While the virus remains a very nuanced subject, it's important to keep in perspective the fact that the U.S. has significantly ramped up testing, making it more readily available to people and medical professionals, which is one of the reasons for the statistical spike in new confirmed cases.
On the other hand, one grain of positivity is the fact that, based on the rolling seven-day average, the COVID-19 death rate has dropped precipitously by 73% since April. That's great news but it's offset by the ubiquitous stories of various athletes at the college and pro levels testing positive for COVID-19.
Over the last month, the Broncos have implemented extensive safety measures against COVID-10 to get their facilities at the UC Health Training Center up to code and mitigate as much of the risk as possible for players, coaches, staff, and team employees. These safety renovations have included spacing lockers one empty locker apart from each player, among others.
As the Broncos' player rep for the NFLPA, kicker Brandon McManus recently shared with KUSA's Mike Klis why he has an optimistic outlook on training camp starting on time. When asked whether he sees camp opening on time, McManus told Klis, "Yes, I do."
McManus was on a call just last week with union leaders where the complex issues of starting the 2020 NFL season with as little risk as possible were discussed.
“Even when we had a phone call the other day with the union, we knew there would be spikes again,’’ McManus told Klis. “Every state is getting better at testing so it’s inevitable there would be more positive tests as stuff was opening back up.
"The question is, what risk do you take it to that’s comfortable for the players and their families and cities or depending on what state, the fans?
“We’re just trying to talk through it. The union and the league have a lot of questions to answer in a short amount of time. We’ll see if they can get a better grasp on how to handle everything in the coming weeks.”
With as many as 90 players on the roster when camp opens in July, Klis spitballed the possibility of some players having to dress over in the field house, away from the main locker rooms. But at a certain point, such safety measures become practically meaningless due to the fact that football remains a contact sport.
“I think the football will stay football,’’ McManus told Klis. “Some of the concerns some players had was we’re doing all these guidelines through the whole facility, what’s the point of doing this and yet we’re still going to be playing football? Guys will still be hitting each other. But what they’re trying to do is mitigate as much risk as possible outside of the football contact you’re going to have on the field.’’
Daily testing, isolation, and contact tracing for those who test positive for COVID-19 will be paramount. There are multiple factors NFL teams and its players are having to consider with regard to a relatively safe return to the field.
“I think they’re trying to figure out a way that makes the players feel comfortable with the staff at the facility every day with testing and try to get a saliva-based RNA testing where you could do it almost every day,’’ McManus told Klis. “So, the day you report, you do a test, and then you’d have the results that day and it lets you know whether you can report to training camp the next day. And you do that every day.
“It’s not finalized yet, but I think they’re trying to go more to the saliva base, and then also they would test antibodies every couple days which is a blood prick. They’re talking through the saliva test right now.’’
The nostril-based testing is better than nothing but the obstacle is that those forms of testing take longer to get the results back, which is why saliva-based RNA testing, as McManus detailed, could make all the difference. There are several potential obstacles to the NFL season going off on-schedule and some of them are bridges that can't be crossed until we get to them.
But the players and the owners remain focused on committed to navigating these pitfalls in order to have a full 2020 season. Only time will tell whether they can pull it off.
The good news is, after an appearance on CNN where he expressed misgivings about the NFL season happening without players living "in a bubble", Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recently told Sports Illustrated's Jets Country that it's too soon to say absolutely that the NFL season should be canceled.
“My statements about the NFL season have been misinterpreted and taken out of context,” Fauci said. “I was asked by officials from the NFL about risks associated with various scenarios that the NFL might face in consideration of the upcoming season. I provided advice from a public health standpoint. The ultimate decision is not mine but that of the officials of the NFL and the players themselves.”
Stay positive. Wear a mask. And let's keep our fingers crossed that the NFL season starts on time and is played in full. There might not be fans in the stands but I have full confidence that football will be played this fall and that fans will at least get to watch their favorite team play on TV.