Patriots defensive backs Devin and Jason McCourty are supposed to be kicking back.
Five weeks stand between them and the scheduled start of training camp, time annually purposed for players and coaches to vacation. Yet like most NFL personnel nowadays, the McCourtys are at home, anxious and unsure. Fearful, even, amid the slowest chunk of the league’s calendar, which may last far longer than what most expect.
On the latest episode of their shared podcast, Double Coverage, the twin brothers explained their trepidation over returning to training camp during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Jason flatly stated that he would not participate in a team practice at this time and described possibly returning to such an environment as “scary.” Devin wondered whether the league will find a way to open on time in late July.
“I think everybody’s nervous because the norm is that we just go to work. We put in a lot of work, we bond together, we lift, we’re in close quarters. It feels like that’s all being taken away from us. So I don’t know how to react,” Devin said.
Last week, states with multiple NFL teams, including Florida and Texas, began suffering major spikes in new coronavirus cases, less than a month after they re-opened against the advice of infectious disease experts. Jason, who revealed he is currently in Tennessee, said he’s experienced the recent surge of new positive tests firsthand.
“I’ve been out here in Nashville, and I actually go run at the high school where I think a lot of the 49ers players were doing their team-practice ordeal. They just had a player or two test positive,” he said
“It’s kind of scary because something like that — I think it was probably just offense, so they probably had maybe 10 guys out there — when you think about the future, it’s hard for 10 guys just to get together to do little passing drills or anything of that nature. To think about somewhere between 53 and 90 guys in a training camp, it’s going to be insane.”
Both McCourtys said Patriots players have not been informed yet when they should return to Foxborough for training camp.
They also dismissed the idea that the NFL could pivot to a bubble environment, a la the NBA and MLS, where all teams will soon operate and compete within an insulated campus setting. Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the NFL would need to follow that format or consider that its season may be cancelled. The complications and difficulties of squeezing the entire league into a bubble were obvious to both Devin and Jason.
“You’re talking about 32 teams each with over 100 (players, coaches and staff) that you have to house. I don’t know if it’s really fathomable for the NFL to be able to go in a bubble,” Jason said. “Beyond that, I don’t really know — me, personally, I don’t want to ever say never — but I can’t anticipate me being away from the family for that long throughout the entirety of the season. That would be insane. It would feel like forever.”
“I just can’t see me stepping away from my family for that amount of time. When you sign up for different jobs, you kind of discuss it as a family, the hardship of that. For us as players, we never had to think about that. We have training camp kind of in a month and a half, so we haven’t heard until now. The days start counting down. You might be telling your wife with a week’s notice that you’re gone for six months. To me, that would be very tough,” he said.
“If that is on the table, I think that needs to be discussed sooner than later for guys to be able to make that decision.”
NFL: Teams must make emergency plans
The NFL has issued a memo to all teams mandating they develop a plan for containing a potential coronavirus outbreak during training camps next month.
According to ESPN, the league is first requiring all teams to separate their football personnel into tiers that reflect how essential they are to conducting training camp. Only the most essential personnel — Tier 1 personnel — will be granted access to newly restricted areas such as practice fields, locker rooms and training rooms. These personnel are expected to include players, coaches, trainers, team doctors and any other employees who must have regular access to players.
Tier 2 personnel are staffers who occasionally require close proximity to players — general managers, operations employees and video staff among others — and will now be required to enter the stadium in a separate entrance from Tier 1 staff. They will have limited access to restricted areas. Tier 3 personnel, such as field managers, stadium staff and team-employed media, will consist of employees who do not require close contact with Tier 1 members.
Personnel who access restricted areas regularly will undergo daily testing and answer a series of questions about their time outside the facility since they last left the premises. Social distancing and cleaning policies were outlined in the memo, per ESPN. The league is also requiring all personnel to wear masks inside facilities unless they inhibit players’ athletic performance.
All teams must submit their emergency plans to the NFL, NFLPA and Infection Control for Sports for approval.
It is unknown whether training camps will open, as scheduled, over the final two weeks of July.