The current pandemic is taking its toll on just about everyone and just about everything. We have already witnessed other professional sports leagues have to suspend their season, only to restart their seasons to varying degrees of success. The NFL was in the midst of their offseason when suspensions and closures begun impacting the sports world, giving them some time to get ahead of the curve. Sure, the 2020 NFL Draft was altered but until recently, we really haven’t been able to see how the upcoming season may be impacted.
Recently, NFL players around the league, and specifically six Atlanta Falcons’ players including linebacker Foye Oluokun and fullback Keith Smith have landed on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list. Dan Quinn in transcripts provided by the team, talked about how the organization is handling COVID-19 testing.
“The testing process, the coaches and our rookies were on the same format. Actually, the process that you go through to get tested is quite efficient,” Dan Quinn said. “We drive into the complex and that’s the very first thing that we do, undergo a test. It doesn’t take long at all. You go, get out of your car, get tested and then your day begins. That’s the very first thing that takes place. On on-field, you can call it coaching, we’ve had walk-throughs with the rookies. So, we’ve had two of those so far – one yesterday and one today.”
Quinn went on to explain how the testing is run and how it’s been easier than anticipated.
“The strength and conditioning phases are run by the strength and conditioning coaches. So, it’s almost like a – we’ll do this same process with the veterans beginning next week – so we’re getting one first lap through here with the rookies. Two days, we’ve done some walk-throughs with them. They’ve done some on-field strength and conditioning, and the testing process was a lot easier and smoother than I thought. In fact, I told the team in one of our meetings, I was expecting the big nasal swab all the way to the back. My first day, ready to take it, just one (nostril) here, one here and you’re done. I said, ‘That’s all it is?’ It seemed like a really smooth process. That’s where we’re at testing-wise. The veterans begin that process today. It’s about a week long to go through the process with testing and two days of physicals before everybody begins.”
COVID-19 has proven to be worse for individuals who have pre-existing health conditions. During the 2019 offseason, Falcons’ right tackle Kaleb McGary missed time due to him undergoing a cardiac ablation procedure to fix an irregular heartbeat. With situations like this, it’s only natural to be concerned for players and staff who may be at a higher-risk for COVID-19 related health risks.
“I would say one size does not fit all, but you’re right to say that we want to make sure that every single person that you’re dealing with (follows the) guidelines that (they) need to,” Dan Quinn said. “The other thing, also people in their home. It could be a spouse, a child, a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle, all factors are considered. Like most things, have the honest conversation about where you’re at and if there’s any concerns to go, as far as the medical one goes, that’s definitely dictated by the doctors and protocols, like regarding Kaleb (McGary). But, anybody that had any concerns, medically or not, I wanted to make sure that we had honest communications because – not football-related, but as a human being, you want to make sure you have those good conversations.”
As mentioned above, other professional sports leagues such as the MLB, NBA and MLS have all resumed their seasons. The NBA is currently thriving with their “bubble” in Orlando, Florida where essentially the entire season will be spent at Walt Disney World Resort. The MLB on the other hand, has struggled with teams like the Miami Marlins being hit hard by COVID-19. The NFL is in the process of starting up for the 2020 season, and has many wondering what the outcome will be.
“I don’t know all of the protocols on baseball, but one thing that’s – the daily testing. I think that’s a big piece of it for us,” Dan Quinn said. “Right now, we’re doing that every day. That’s a factor. As far as the guidelines, like you just described, the high-contact – I’m not sure where the guys are on shields or not – but at least we know when we’re coming into the building, everyone in here has tested negatively. That’s a good thing, but as far as away from here, how do I explain this in the best way? I feel like their time here is their safest time in the day in some regards because they know the population here and there are lots of guidelines here. I’m not saying it’s perfect by any means. I don’t want to misunderstand that, but it’s the time away from it.”
Recently, NFL teams were faced with two options: 1) Get your team to 80 total players or 2) Stay at 90 players but split your training camps in two. The second option would’ve prevented veterans like quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones from mixing up on the field with the rookies. The Falcons elected to drop down to 80 players, and released punter Ryan Allen and four undrafted free agents who never really had a fair shot to prove their worth to the team.
“You can stay at 90 for a few weeks. If you do that, you would have to split your squad into two,” Dan Quinn said. “Those are rookie and first-year players and veteran players. So, you can’t pick and choose, ‘Alright, we’ll just have two separate clubs, 45 on one 45 on another.’ They’re giving you some leeway if you choose to go down that way during the strength and conditioning phase. In other words, what I’m thinking of is during the offseason, once the team practices begin, then you have to be at 80. A number of people are choosing to go there now so you don’t have to split guys working. If you split, there’s a good chance your rookie players wouldn’t know a veteran player because they wouldn’t be there together. So, how quickly do you want to acclimate A.J. (Terrell) and Marlon (Davidson) to the group? That’s specific to Atlanta.”
Training camp is currently underway, and the Falcons — and NFL at large, are doing what they can to prevent any impacts from the current pandemic. Players will likely continue being added to the COVID-19 reserve list, and hopefully they are all fully healthy for the season and for the long haul.