Jaguars Utilize Full Facility for Training Camp As Part of New Normal
For the first time in nearly five months, Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone can walk in TIAA Bank Field and see his players. He can break down at the end of practice and he can work through installs with them in preparation for the 2020 NFL season…but still, nothing is the same.
If he gets too close in that hallways, a monitoring device he wears around his neck will flash red. He must take a couple of steps back until it’s blue again. Everyone in Tier 1 and 2 in the building is sporting one of these devices.
When it comes time to initiate that breakdown at the end of practice, he must stop his players from the habit of huddling together and instead keep everyone socially distanced.
“All of a sudden I’m like ‘whoah, whoah, wait a minute, let’s not do that right now.’”
And when it comes time to work through more installs, he has to remind himself whether or not the meeting is interactive or virtual, while remembering that none can currently be done in person.
While speaking with local reporters in his first (virtual) press conference of 2020 training camp, Marrone outlined all the ways this period and upcoming season are different and what it’s taking to pull off an unprecedented feat…playing football in the time of a global pandemic.
For starters, there are the mornings that begin with COVID-19 testing. Marrone and players stand in line, six-feet apart with masks on, and wait for their rapid test and temperature results. Players are allowed into the facility if they test negative and have subsequently returned negative results for three tests in a row. Once inside, there are arrows and signs on the hallways, locker rooms and weight rooms are split and the meetings are in person…but not.
Marrone is in his office, seated in front of a webcam and monitor—he’ll have two once meetings go full roster wide—while his players are spaced around the stadium in front of their own webcam and monitor. It was a system the video staff came up with early on in the process, explains Marrone, assuming it would have to be done into the season.
The ability to connect virtually has already come in handy as players return. Marrone and staff have met with their roster along with families of the men, bringing the team doctors onto calls as well for transparency. The same will take place for veteran players on Thursday night.
With each new protocol and showcased adaptability in a fluid situation, Marrone says he has been open with players about the inherent risk, but has also come to trust the plan in place.
“I think there’s a risk for everyone, we all understand that…to stand up here and say ‘hey there’s no risk,’ that’s not true. We all have to take risk…
“I think there’s gonna be a lot of challenges for us. I think there’ll be a lot of anxiety in different areas. It’s hard to pinpoint what’s gonna come up next. You really just doing the best job you can really at the time. So I feel comfortable, really comfortable, about the protocols.
“I think the protocols that have been in place by the PA and the NFL that are up to date, that are constantly being updated for the better of safety reasons puts me in a less area of risk.”
Part of those protocols are helped greatly by the facility in which the Jaguars play. Not every team is housed in their stadium. That is the case however in Jacksonville, and it’s helping maintain social distancing.
“One thing the stadium has provided us is, we have four locker rooms. We can split the stadium up. We have different ways logistically where we can keep everybody safe.”
Thanks to the ability to socially distance and accommodate a larger number of people, the Jaguars are able to carry a 90 man roster for longer than normal as opposed to 80 total through training camp. With a lack of preseason games, the ability to keep guys on for a little longer for evaluation can be crucial. August 16 is the deadline to get down to the final roster, but until then Marrone says they’ll hold at 90 for as long as possible.
“We were able to stay at 90 and get that done. So we’re gonna try to keep that going until we’re able to make a decision and we really can’t make a decision, probably until we go to Phase 2 with the young guys, which will be obviously a couple of days.”
Phase 2 involves rotating the current schedule of the day. With a roster of 90 players, the Jaguars are forced to split practices to honor the proper distancing. While the practices on the field must be held 90 minutes apart to avoid cross contamination of the groups, it’s been a smooth system according to Marrone.
“We’re gonna be able to accomplish everything that we want because we’re still at a point where, it’s not like your veteran players are out there practicing full go and your young guys are out there practicing full-go, now you gotta double dip everything and be on that field all day long. There’s two phases to it.”
Up to this point, the rookies have been in a conditioning and walk-through phase since they arrived earlier (last Tuesday, July 21). As veterans finish their initial round of COVID testing, they will transition to the walk-through phase while rookies move on to Phase 2—practices with no pads.
These are just a few of the ways the Jaguars and teams across the NFL are being welcomed back in the time of COVID-19. One could call it a new normal, but Marrone sees it another way.
“Normal is really out of the picture of the things that we’re doing.”