Titans Aim to Keep Coronavirus at Bay During Camp

Mike Hogan

The NFL regular season does not start until Sept. 10. For the Tennessee Titans, it will be Sept. 14 in Denver.

While that’s just a little bit more than a month away, it may feel even longer as NFL teams continue to consume themselves with how to stay coronavirus free during training camps. It almost seems as if everything needs to go right for the season to even start.

As everyone across the league gets used to a new normal, Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan explained that at the very least, players should understand that accountability will go a long way this season. This is, after all, the big leagues.

“This isn't college football, isn't high school football anymore. It's not an arena league. This is the big leagues,” Lewan said. “So, if guys want to be a part of it, if guys want to take part in this season, then it's on them to do those types of things.”

The Titans and 31 other NFL teams will follow a large laundry list of similar protocols and precautions this summer at team facilities. Those include frequent COVID-19 testing, mask wearing, practicing thorough hand hygiene and much more.

While social distancing will present many challenges when full-team workouts begin, the Titans have taken all measures possible to ensure that it can be practiced away from the field.

At Saint Thomas Sports Park, the cafeteria, weight room, locker room, and other spaces have been reconfigured. In an effort to reduce face-to-face interaction, the cafeteria will operate as a grab-and-go meal service.

The Titans have created spaces inside of their indoor practice facility for team and other large-group meetings. In recent video press conferences, some players have said the distance between players and coaches in meeting rooms makes it feel like they aren’t in the same space.

“Our coaches have a mic that he's talking through, speaker so guys in the back can hear because we're a little spread out,” safety Kevin Byard said Monday. “When guys are answering questions, sometimes it's hard to hear. You have to kind of lean just to try to hear guys.”

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill described the offensive meeting room in similar fashion.

“You're spaced out in the bubble and a lot of room in between,” he said last week. “Guys got microphones so that we can hear the speaker or the installer whether it’s [head coach] (Mike) Vrabel or [offensive coordinator] Art (Smith), so it's different.”

There is a sizable caveat, though.

The players understand that such health and safety measures at the facility will only matter if they take just as much precaution away from it. Saint Thomas Sports Park will only be their escape from reality for so long each day.

Vrabel said while he and the coaching staff can’t control what players decide to do on their own time, they can try to influence them to do the best they can. Tannehill said last week that this year will require a tremendous amount of sacrifice from every man on the roster.

“It's going to be a matter of guys taking it upon themselves to be conscious, be really thoughtful about what they do with their time, and how they spend it, where they go, people that are around. Are you wearing a mask?” he said. “You’re not going to be able to have a bunch of people come stay at your house – you don't know where everyone's been – or go to a bar, or place where there's a bunch of people in close proximity.”

Dr. David Aronoff, the director of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s infectious diseases division, expressed similar thoughts during an interview with AllTitans in June.

“It may very well be for the NFL, as it has for other sports, an incredible year of sacrifice for the health and safety of players, coaches and other people who are needed to help the game flourish,” Dr. Aronoff said. “They need to continue to understand the health and wellness of their league is the No. 1 thing.

“Everyone wants to see sports back in action, but this is a rapidly changing situation. All the best laid plans may turn to dust if this pandemic doesn’t quiet down.”

The discussion on how NFL players ought to behave off the field comes as Major League Baseball continues its bout with the coronavirus.

More than 10 members of the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals contracted the coronavirus after less than two weeks of regular season games. Many have blamed the outbreaks on players acting irresponsibly away from the field.

While both reports have been refuted, it’s rumored that Marlins and Cardinals players may have congregated at bars, night clubs or casinos.

“It’s a lot of rumors out there about guys were at clubs and all types of different stuff,” Byard said. “Like I said, I can only control what I can control, which is to make sure that I'm wearing my mask, and I'm washing my hands, and I'm trying to be safe, and trying to talk to the guys about them pretty much doing the same thing.”

The Titans hope to follow up their improbable run to the AFC Championship game last season with the same, if not more, success in 2020.

The pieces are certainly in place to do so.

Tannehill, coming off of a career season, will be a Titan for at least four more seasons. Running back Derrick Henry, who led the league in rushing last season, recently signed a four-year extension as well.

Wide receiver A.J. Brown had a record-setting rookie season, and is primed for even more success in the future. With a few notable additions, the offensive line and the defensive unit will feature nearly all of the same players this season.

How much success the Titans have this season, though, may very well be contingent on how well the team navigates through the unprecedented challenge that is the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the regular season draws near, the players know that.

“Don't put yourself in a position to contract something or be somewhere that you shouldn't be,” Lewan said. “I mean this is a business and it's what we're trying to do is have a football season.”

Added Byard: “At the end of the day, the safest teams and the healthiest team this year is going to be the one that's going to be playing in January and February. We can only control what we can control.”

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