The coronavirus pandemic has thrown sports into flux for much of 2020, and after four months, that instability has come to the NFL. The league confirmed in a July 27 letter to fans that preseason games were canceled and replaced by extended workout and practice sessions. Unless they opted out, players were required to report for training camp by July 28 and submit to daily testing before beginning organized activities the following week.
With an abnormal practice period and lack of game action, teams may be less ready than usual ahead of the scheduled Sept. 10 opener. But squads like the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs have more of an advantage due to their coaching situation, former Ravens offensive coordinator and New York Giants head coach Jim Fassel said.
“It’s going to be a huge advantage for the clubs that have the same head coach and coaches and style of what they’re doing [as last year],” Fassel said on Glenn Clark Radio July 23.
According to NFL.com, clubs are only permitted to conduct strength and conditioning workouts beginning Aug. 3 before ramping up to full padded practices beginning Aug. 17. As such, workouts will essentially be a combination of OTAs and training camp. For teams with a new coaching staff — such as the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns — this limited practice time means players will have to learn a new system in just a few weeks.
But with little staff turnover during the offseason — and no head coach or top coordinator changes — the Ravens appear to be in a strong position entering 2020. Returning players do not have to learn a new system, making it easier to teach that scheme to rookies and recently-signed free agents.
Either way, teams will have to adjust to the atypical season. For Fassel, 70, that’s a necessity if a team wants to do well.
“No matter what [the plan] was going to be, it was going to be different,” Fassel said. “The world is not the same, and you have to be ready to adapt when something hits you in the face.”
Beyond the workouts, early games could see an increase in sloppy play. With limited practice time, teams will still be working through offseason rust and returning to top form.
This will be most pronounced in rookies and linemen, said former Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice. The 61-year-old said he believed it would be difficult for those players to fall into a routine.
“I don’t see the start of the season having any type of rhythm,” Tice said on GCR July 24. “I think there’ll be a lot of mistakes.”
But Tice also said he’s never particularly cared for preseason competition. He feels players get more meaningful work in 11-on-11 practices and scrimmages — especially against other teams — while coaches can better evaluate their athletes in these smaller drills and scenarios.
This offseason, though, those workouts will largely be nonexistent. With concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, the league is limiting the amount of contact in drills. While Tice said that is smart for health reasons, he is also concerned about players not being fully prepared and possibly being more susceptible to injury once the season begins.
“How are you going to simulate that five, six seconds of chaos of an NFL play, of total chaos and effort and explosion, and do that with walkthroughs and OTA-type practices?” Tice said. “I don’t think that’s healthy.”
Off the field, the 2020 season will see at least one other major change. Fans will likely not be allowed inside stadiums during games, eliminating the home-field advantage. And it will be an adjustment for the players too, who often feed off crowd noise as motivation when they play.
All that in addition to the adjusted practices and extra precautions ensures this season will stand out as unique in NFL history.
“It’s going to be strange,” Tice said.
For more from Fassel, listen to the full interview here:
For more from Tice, listen to the full interview here:
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