At this point, preseason and training camp in the NFL could be anything. Longer, shorter, or somewhere in between.
No matter what it is, one thing is for certain: much will look and feel different.
Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel and general manager Jon Robinson acknowledged that fact during press conferences Thursday to mark the end of the team’s virtual offseason program. And until players can return to Saint Thomas Sports Park for the as-yet-unknown start of training camp, they’ll have to iron out the details of a new normal.
Vrabel said the Titans will abide by any and all NFL guidelines. Right now, everything from rearranging spaces to social distancing is on the table, and the third-year boss has confidence that operations staffers Brent Akers, Chris Matusek, and John Streicher will help make necessary changes.
“If every person has to walk around six feet apart, we’re going to walk around six feet apart,” Vrabel said. “If we have to do something to change the locker room, and there can only be 15 guys in the weight room at a time and it’s got to be wiped down, and we have to change our meeting rooms and put them different places and make sure that we have space, and team meeting room can’t be in the team meeting room, we’re going to do all that.
“How many guys can be in a hot tub? How many guys can be in the training room? How many guys can lift and what time do you want to lift? Some guys like to lift before practice, some guys like to lift after practice. What the flow through the lunchroom looks like, and how the boxed lunch has to be, no buffet, how many guys can sit at a table and how you space that out. The meeting rooms … how do you do a team meeting room with 90 players? How do you do an offensive and defensive unit meeting?”
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert and professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University, expressed similar concerns during an exclusive interview with AllTitans in May. Schaffner, however, said the biggest changes need to be made off of the field.
“It would have to be an awful lot of instruction in terms of how the players ought to behave off of the field,” Schaffner said. “That’s where the risk is. It’s not so much on the field, it’s off of the field. Do they stay away from people? Are they sheltering in place? Do they wear masks when they’re out and about? Are they practicing good hand hygiene?”
Testing will also be a crucial part of resuming in-person activity, Schaffner said.
While the league has not issued any clear plans for a coronavirus testing program, Schaffner described what one may look like once games can be played again.
“I had heard that they are thinking of testing players, bringing them into a city where a game is going to be played the night before, sequestering the teams and the people in the inner bubble and getting them tests that night,” he said. “They would send them to a major commercial laboratory. They could have the answers by the next morning. Hopefully, everyone would be cleared to play. Obviously, there would be consequences if there were positives. I had heard that some of that planning was going on.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has and will continue to force change in the sports world and beyond. But for the Titans, the ultimate goal remains unmodified.
“It’s going to look different,” Vrabel said. “I told the players it’s going to look different. We’re still going to be here for a reason and that’s to prepare for a season, a successful season.”