When Ron Rivera saw his players in person Tuesday for the start of training camp, he didn’t recognize all of them. Washington’s coach has been on the job for six months, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, there are faces he knows only through video conferences.
“They had their masks on too, which made it even harder to recognize (them),” Rivera said.
Getting acquainted is just one of the tasks Rivera and the Washington Football Team face ahead of a season unlike any the team or the NFL have ever attempted.
Without OTAs and a mandatory minicamp, the coach said he doesn’t have a feel yet for how the pieces on his roster will fit. For example, what will be the running back rotation? Which combination of wide receivers will take the field?
“Everything is a big question mark right now,” he said.
The biggest question of all — one that extends far beyond Washington — is if the season itself can actually be completed.
On that front, Rivera said he believes it will require “discipline” from everyone involved.
That, he said, will require wearing a mask, following health protocols and properly social distancing.
Across the sports world, MLB is grappling with an outbreak of coronavirus cases on the Miami Marlins and many have wondered what will happen if the NFL faces a similar situation.
Rivera admitted he is “concerned” about his own health while coaching during a pandemic, which is why, he says, it’s important to be “very diligent” with observing protocols.
“That’s the thing you know that we’re missing right now as a society is that we’re not very diligent,” Rivera said. “We’re not very strict and unfortunately it’s still kind of ramped right now and I think as we understand more and more about this virus it seems that wearing a mask, washing your hands, socially distancing, trying to avoid large crowds, you know you give yourself a chance.”
The Marlins’ outbreak raised a series of questions for Rivera. He wanted to know how it happened. Were players not taking social distancing seriously? Did one player forget to wear a mask, catch the virus and then spread to others? Finding those answers may be difficult, but Rivera said he hopes there is enough information so teams can learn from it and “not repeat mistakes.”
So far, the NFL has seen more than 25 players withdraw due to coronavirus concerns. Defensive lineman Caleb Brantley is the only Washington player to do so, but around the league, prominent players such as Chicago’s Eddie Goldman, New England’s Patrick Chung, Green Bay’s Devin Funchess and Philadelphia’s Marquise Goodwin have pulled out.
Rivera was not asked if he anticipates any more players from his team withdrawing. The league’s deadline to opt out will be officially seven days from when the recently negotiated changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement are signed, according to Pro Football Talk. At the earliest, that would be Aug. 4.
Throughout the offseason, Rivera has made it a point to compare the pandemic to his experience with the 2011 lockout, his first year as a coach. In both instances, players weren’t allowed at team facilities until training camp, posing challenges for coaches to get their teams up to speed.
On Tuesday, Rivera said he was a fan of the league’s acclimation period, not allowing players to have padded practices until Aug. 17 at the earliest. When Rivera was with the Panthers in 2011, players were allowed to practice from the beginning of camp in late July without any ramp up — resulting in a string of soft tissue injuries.
Twice, Rivera referred to adjusting to the pandemic as a “learning process.” He stressed the team had to be smart and careful.
“It’s hard to say what it would take to shut everything down,” Rivera said, “ but I’d imagine if you had a mass breakout, you’re going to have some big questions.”
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