As head coach Ron Rivera prepared for his first virtual press conference of training camp, his players trickled into the parking lot the Inova Sports Performance Center. They all wore masks, and instead of walking towards the club facility, they approached a small white tent to have their temperature taken. Once cleared, they entered a white trailer to take a COVID-19 test and exited minutes later. Then they hopped in their cars and left.
Following a completely virtual offseason, Tuesday marked the beginning of the most unusual training camp in NFL history. There will be frequent testing and zero preseason games. Some players around the league have already opted out.
However, the season is still scheduled to start Sept. 10, giving every franchise about six weeks to prepare for the 2020 campaign. The Washington Football Team will try and capitalize on every opportunity.
"I think the ramp up period was a heck of an idea," head coach Ron Rivera told the local media via Zoom. "I think if we do things right and we take advantage of the way the rules are lined up for us, we can get something out of those [practices]. ...Again, it's a matter of whether or not you take advantage of the opportunity to get your guys ready to go, ramp them up properly and then get them on the field."
Training camp will begin with an acclimation period, which is similar to the offseason training activities (OTAs) that the players missed out on in the spring. During this time, players will have 60 minutes in the weight room and 60 minutes for on-field conditioning each day. Teams can also have 60-minute walkthroughs the first four days and 75-minute walkthroughs the last four days. Sunday, Aug. 8, is a mandatory off day.
The "ramp up" phase consists of four practices. The first practice can be 90 minutes, followed by a 105-minute practice. Players are permitted to wear helmets for both sessions. Following a mandatory off day Aug. 15, there can be two 120-minute practices with helmets and shells but no live contact. Players are allowed to be on the field 3.5 hours per day during this period.
Finally, the contact integration period will run from Aug. 18 to Sept. 6. A maximum of 14 padded practices are allowed during this time.
"We're going to pick it up right now, and we've been meeting with the young guys and the quarterbacks," Rivera said. "We'll start including the veteran guys who reported today; those guys will be in on those meetings as well. I think it's an opportunity for us to get a chance to see what we have."
In the absence of preseason games, Rivera said the coaching staff will try and create as many game-like situations as possible. Doing so will help them evaluate the quarterbacks and examine position battles and determine final roster spots. The difficult part, Rivera said, will be simulating the speed and tempo of those contests. "It's just a different feel and vibe when you're playing the game as opposed to practicing."
Another challenge will be developing Washington's plethora of young talent, some of whom will be asked to play significantly right away. That's why Rivera has stressed to his coaching staff the importance of doing "a little extra," both on the practice field and in the meeting room. That means allotting some time at the end of practices and meetings for coaches to work specifically with their younger players.
"We are going to rely on our coaches no more than we have in the past for them to develop our young talent," Rivera said. "One thing that we will do with our young talent is that they will work with everyone. Knowing that you've worked with the ones and the twos, you will develop that comfort level."
Perhaps the biggest obstacle will be navigating through an NFL season amid the pandemic. If a player tests positive during training camp, he'll miss out on invaluable practice time. If he tests positive during the season, he will likely miss games.
Everyone within the organization must be disciplined, Rivera said. Training camp has arrived.
"You have to wear a mask. You have to wash your hands. You have to properly distance yourself from one another. ...We've got to make sure we're following all the protocols that have been set forth by the CDC and by the NFL and NFLPA. We've got to be really careful with this and be smart."