Greatest Ability Will Be Availability, Accountability
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Availability is the greatest ability.
That tried-and-true statement, a favorite among coaches, will be especially true in this unprecedented NFL season. Players who are free of COVID-19 will be able to compete for jobs in training camp and compete on Sundays.
However, another word could be added to that phrase.
Accountability and availability will be the greatest ability. Without accountability, a player or coach could take down a big chunk of his team and ruin an entire season.
“I think around here we’ve always put the reliability, the dependability factor as a major part of our evaluation process, and this year more so than any,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said in his pre-training camp Zoom call on Sunday. “For us to accomplish the things we want to accomplish this season, guys are going to have to make the right choices when they leave the building. There’s no doubt about it. I’ve always believed football is the ultimate team game and this year more so than ever. It’s going to be dependent on how each one of us, not just the players but everybody in our building, to make good choices when they leave the building.”
During a typical training camp, teams would already be practicing in pads. During this training camp, the start of camp has been limited to COVID tests and physicals. Teams will ease into football for the next couple of weeks before the first padded practice on Aug. 17.
As of midday Sunday, the Packers have three players on their COVID-19 reserve lists, with kicker Mason Crosby, tight end Jace Sternberger and outside linebacker Greg Roberts. Only one player, receiver Devin Funchess, has opted out of the season. Gutekunst didn’t anticipate anyone else would opt out before the deadline, which could come as soon as Tuesday. The Patriots, by contrast, had an eighth player opt out on Sunday.
While Gutekunst and coach Matt LaFleur spoke optimistically of the team’s safety protocols, Major League Baseball was confident, as well, but has been unable to keep some teams on the field. Football, clearly, is a different sport than baseball and transmission of the virus would seem more likely given the physical contact.
That’s a reality Gutekunst was keenly aware of. It’s not if there will be bad news. It’s when. The key will be limiting the outbreak and the impact.
“We’re going to have positive tests,” he said. “This virus that we’re dealing with, we’re going to have that and it’s not going to be always, just because someone gets it, be their fault. So, the dependability, the availability of players, the teams that do that and overcome that and rise to the challenge are going to be the ones who are left standing, fighting at the end. So, it’s a big part of what we’re trying to express to our entire organization.”
That messaging of accountability and availability will be central in LaFleur’s presentations to his team from August through December (and, perhaps, beyond). If there’s going to be an NFL season, and if the Packers are going to win this season, it’s going to take a total team effort in making the right decisions.
“I think that’s the whole key,” LaFleur said. “If we’re going to have football played this year, it’s going to take a lot of self-discipline and a lot of self-accountability. It’s not just our players, I mean, it starts with our staff. Really anybody that comes in contact with our players, they have got to be very mindful of what they’re doing outside of this building. So, certainly, we’re going to encourage our guys, and if they choose to go out in public, to mask up. We’re all in this sucker together, that’s for sure.”