The Redskins were one of 12 teams to kick off their virtual offseason program Monday as part of the league's efforts to get players and coaches prepared for the 2020 season while adhering to the guidelines of social distancing.
The program, which was agreed upon by the NFL and NFLPA after weeks of discussions, includes three consecutive weeks of classroom instruction and an optional workout program that will conclude no later than May 15, per league regulations. Teams with new coaches are also allowed to hold a voluntary veteran camp.
"What it really is is Phase 1 of the offseason program," head coach Ron Rivera told Voice of the Redskins Larry Michael at last week's virtual leadership luncheon. "But you're going to do it virtually."
While the effects of the novel coronavirus are unprecedented, Rivera is familiar with being unable to physically meet with his players. He faced a similar situation in his first season of coaching the Carolina Panthers in 2011 while the NFL and NFLPA were negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement. That experience offered plenty of lessons he still relies upon almost a decade later.
"The biggest thing is to just be ready when the time comes to get back on the field with them," Rivera told local media on April 7. "If it's some time in late May or June or heck, not until training camp and whenever that is. I'm not overly concerned because I've gone through it."
Under the new virtual offseason program, the coaching staff will be able to meet with players for four hours per day for classroom instruction and workouts. Rivera said the Redskins will not be participating in virtual workouts, so players will meet with their respective position coaches online two hours per day for four days each week.
In 2011, even those options were not allowed with the lockout prohibiting all interactions between players and coaches. Veteran camps, OTAs and minicamps were all cancelled, so Rivera didn't get the chance to meet with his new team until the week before training camp in late July.
So, while the CBA was being negotiated, Rivera and his former staff chose to focus on the draft, which was one of the few league events that went on as planned.
"We were able to get into the nitty-gritty of the draft...once we got our playbooks installed for offense, defense and special teams. Once the schedule came out, then we started to focus in on preparing for the upcoming opponents."
The circumstances surrounding the lockout are different than those caused by the novel coronavirus, but going through that nearly five-month period taught Rivera to be prepared and be able to adjust. "You constantly have to adapt to the set of circumstances."
Rivera's response to both situations has been the same. He and his staff have focused on the draft for the past month while working from home. They don't have to spend time talking through the construction of their playbooks, either.
"Because we were the first team that was hired, we were able to really dive in and get a lot of our work done early. We had all our stuff prepped and ready to go."
That gives Rivera confidence that his coaches will be able to focus on teaching their players the new system without many distractions. And Rivera is grateful there will at least be some sort of interaction between his staff and the players.
"The best thing we can do is be able to work with our guys virtually to make sure we make contact with them as soon as we are and just follow all the rules as to what our time frame is going to be with each player and the positions and the groups," Rivera said.
It is unknown when players and coaches will be able to return to club facilities, but Rivera is content because he is allowed communication with his players in some capacity. For now, he and the Redskins will focus on the methods that are available to them. When teams are allowed to return to normalcy, they will be ready.
"If that's what we can do and kind of show everybody that you can function within the guidelines being set by the CDC and the federal government and the state government in terms of being safe, then great."