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NFL increases coronavirus precautions, including masks during practices and holding meetings virtually

NFL increases coronavirus precautions, including masks during practices and holding meetings virtually

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Washington Football Traning Facility

Large tents have been put up in Ashburn to allow the team more space to socially distance throughout the day.

ASHBURN—As stretching concluded and practice began for the Washington Football Team on Wednesday, players got their first taste of what will become the new normal: they were required to leave their masks on.

Coach Ron Rivera didn’t make his team run sprints or work at a rapid pace. He said he wanted to give his team the opportunity to acclimate to the NFL’s new “Intensive Protocols” to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s definitely tough,” receiver Steven Sims said. “You can barely breathe when you’re just walking, so I can imagine running around a full day in practice with a mask on.”

Washington became the 29th NFL team with a positive coronavirus test on Monday, but on Wednesday, commissioner Roger Goodell announced that all teams, regardless of testing results, would conduct the remainder of the season in the intensive protocols.

The biggest changes:

-Masks or face shields must be worn at all times, including during practices.

-All meetings must take place virtually, even if it’s just among coaches.

-Players cannot meet each other away from the facility.

“The upcoming holidays, beginning with Thanksgiving next week, will introduce new risks of exposure that we need to address now,” Goodell wrote. “Flexibility and adaptability have been critical to our success to date and we must continue with that approach.”

Rivera said the team is having players sign up for appointments to use the weight rooms and training facilities, to ensure compliance with the NFL’s capacity limits.

Cornerback Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech) said players still get the same amount of time with their position coaches, but with it being virtual, there is a premium on communication.

“We might have to text each other, FaceTime each other, just to kind of make sure we’re seeing things the same, looking at some tape together and things like that,” he said. “So its definitely a different element to it.

“You can say I wish I had it this way, or I wish it was that way, but at the end of the day everybody knew this was going to be a different year, and you have to go out there and produce on Sundays.”

The NFL noted that teams in the intensive protocols have been able to severely cut back on the number of players who must be isolated as close contacts when a positive test emerges. The league has been a success story so far—daily testing, wristbands that monitor contact among staff, and facility improvements have allowed the league to play 100 percent of its scheduled games, something no other American sports league has been able to do without a bubble.

In Washington, though, the decision means even less time for Ron Rivera to work with his young team, and fewer practice opportunities for Alex Smith, who didn’t become the team’s starting quarterback until last week.

“I tell the guys, don’t make a big deal out of it,” Rivera said. “If you make a big deal out of it and make it worrisome, then you’re distracting yourself from the task, and that’s getting ready to go play a football game.

“It’s no different than having to practice outside in the cold or in the rain. There’s nothing you can do about it. Just do it. Put your mind to it, set it, and go.”

Sims said the players know that they won’t be given a free pass because of the circumstances. They’ll continue to be judged on how they perform on Sundays.

“The NFL is based off what you do on your own time,” he said, noting that hours of individual film study and work are needed for success, on top of what happens at the facility.

“You have to figure it out for yourself. Whatever your routine usually is, you’ve got to come up with a new one this week, pretty much on the fly, and hopefully it’s successful and it works out.”

Love back on the bench: Running back Bryce Love practiced with the team last week for the first time since being placed on IR earlier this season. But Love had some soreness in his knee, and did not join the team on Wednesday. Love missed all of his rookie season while recovering from a knee injury he sustained in college, and may miss all of his second season as well.

mphillips@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6546

Twitter: @michaelpRTD

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