Vikings Adjusting to COVID-19 Protocols, Preaching Importance of Responsibility
During his tenth NFL training camp, Kyle Rudolph has had to adjust to a new routine and a new normal. The Vikings tight end is still getting used to the process of following protocols while preparing for a football season amid an ongoing global pandemic.
"There are so many steps along the way," Rudolph said on Wednesday. "You’ve got to fill out your questionnaire on our app when you wake up in the morning. Then when you come in, you sanitize your hands, do your temperature check, get your COVID tests, put on your lanyard, grab your tracker. There’s just a lot of things that have now been added to your routine of coming in the building."
This is a training camp unlike any Rudolph has experienced during his decade with the Vikings, but he understands the importance of taking the COVID-19 precautions seriously. In order for everyone to stay safe – and for the 2020 season to actually happen – abiding by the rules is critical.
"All of a sudden you walk away from your locker and you’re like, ‘Oh, I forgot to put that on,’ or ‘I forgot to grab that,’ coming off the field after a workout, making sure you put your mask back on," Rudolph said. "Things that you’re not accustomed to doing but will be the difference in our team staying healthy, our families staying healthy and being able to be out there each and every week this season.”
From Rudolph, who is the Vikings' longest tenured player, to the 27 rookies participating in their first NFL camp, the Vikings know that every person who enters TCO Performance Center has to be as diligent as possible. That's not only the case right now, but it'll remain the case through the end of the season.
That fact isn't lost on the Vikings' leadership. GM Rick Spielman recently called himself "the COVID police." Head coach Mike Zimmer said that he starts or ends just about every meeting by reminding his players of the responsibility they have. The reality of the situation is that a team staying healthy will give it a distinct competitive advantage in 2020.
Zimmer is confident that his team won't have any issues with adhering to the protocols.
“I think you’re going to have to have smart, disciplined players this year, and for the most part, we’ve always had those kinds of guys," Zimmer said. "That’s a tribute to Rick, as far as the kind of guys we bring in here and guys understanding that it’s not just about them. It’s about everybody else. We have a responsibility to not only our families and ourselves but to the rest of this football team. We have a responsibility to Kyle Rudolph’s family, we have a responsibility to Kirk Cousins’ family, to Dalvin Cook’s family. Everybody. We all need to stay safe with one another, but with our families as well.”
For the most part, it would be difficult for anyone in the Vikings organization to not follow the rules when they're in the building. There are signs all over the place, copious reminders of the protocols, and people to enforce everything. Being at camp is a lot like being in the bubble system that the NBA, NHL, and MLS have employed to great success.
What's crucial is that the players, coaches, and staff members continue to be diligent and safe when they go home in the evening. Despite all of the measures in place, all it takes is one person slipping up to spark an outbreak.
"Every guy that’s on the roster, every coach that’s in this building, when you leave here and go home, you have to be very conscious of where you’re going and what you’re doing," Rudolph said. "You could bring something into the building that could destroy a position group or a group of coaches, and it’s something that all 32 teams will have to be conscious of."
The Vikings and the rest of the NFL can look to Major League Baseball as an example of the importance of avoiding unnecessary risks. MLB is the only major American sports league to begin play without a bubble so far, and the results haven't been perfect. The Miami Marlins had an outbreak with 18 players and coaches testing positive for the coronavirus. It forced their season to come to a halt for an entire week, and also forced an opponent – the Philadelphia Phillies – to do the same. The St. Louis Cardinals and several other teams have also been affected by positive tests.
Here's the key part of that: the Marlins' outbreak was reportedly aided by several players not following MLB safety protocols to the full extent. The Vikings can't have that happen, which is why they're putting so much emphasis onto personal responsibility. That'll become even more important once training camp ends and the regular season begins, with the Vikings traveling across the country for games.
"I think everybody on our team understands it's on all of us to make this thing work, and it's not just when we're in the building with wearing a mask and following the signs and protocols, but when we go home," said Vikings tackle Brian O'Neill. "It's easy right now to be locked into, almost like a bubble, because we have camp and we're here a lot more. It's going to be even more challenging as the season goes on and there's a little bit more free time, and we're not necessarily in the building as much."
The scary thought for every team in the NFL is that there's only so much they can control. They could be doing everything right, only for another team to mess things up for them on gameday. It's going to be on everyone to make sure that doesn't happen.
The NFL has set up a phone number that players can text to anonymously report violations. Spielman has said that the Vikings have protocols in place to deal with players who engage in "high-risk" behavior. Still, it all comes down to each and every person controlling what they can control and doing their part to help make sure the season is successful.
"It’s going to be up to all of us," Eric Kendricks said. "It’s not going to be up to one team if we want to make this season a special one. If we want to play, which we all want to, we have to take the right precautions.”
Join the conversation at InsideTheVikings by clicking the follow button in the upper right-hand corner of this page (mobile users, tap the bell icon – you may have to click ‘News’ first), and follow @WillRagatz on Twitter.