Less than 48 hours after the NFL draft, the Raiders will begin their voluntary offseason program. But the COVID-19 crisis means this year’s offseason work will be anything but normal.
Rather than meeting at the Raiders’ Northern California headquarters — their new facility in Henderson won’t open until June — veteran players and coaches will begin interacting remotely Monday from homes spread across the country.
The Raiders’ rookie class will join in next month.
It hardly will be normal. But as Raiders second-year fullback Alec Ingold said, the key is embracing the new reality and making the most of it rather than using it as an excuse.
“The one thing I’ve learned about being a professional is that you have to find a way to do your job regardless of circumstance and eliminate distractions,” Ingold said.
Under normal circumstances, the two-week phase one offseason program is designated for conditioning, with players voluntarily reporting to team facilities and working with their strength and conditioning coaches. The goal is to get their bodies on track to be prepared for training camp and the season.
Phase two, a three-week segment, includes classroom work and on-field workouts that include individual player instruction and drills. Although team practices are allowed, it’s only on a separated basis in which the offense and defense work apart from each other.
The final four weeks — or phase three — is typically 10 organized team practice activities (OTAs) in which the offense and defense may have nonpadded practices with each other and noncontact seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills.
COVID-19 and the resulting social distancing restrictions have meant the closure of all team facilities. To deal with that, the NFL devised an offseason program that takes those limitations into account.
Beginning Monday, the Raiders and most of their colleagues will begin a three-week virtual period in which players and coaches can conduct classroom work, workouts and nonfootball educational programs via video conferencing tools.
It’s not ideal, but as Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said, the experience the organization gleaned while completing a mostly virtual draft evaluation process and pulling off the virtual draft gives the team a good understanding of how to conduct a virtual offseason program.
“The one thing I learned over the last month or six weeks or whatever it’s been, I couldn’t believe how creative our coaches got with our Zoom presentations to the college players,” Mayock said. “I guarantee you they bring the same creativity to our Raider players as we go through the virtual. It’s going to be learning more than anything. I know our coaches have put in a lot of time and effort.”
Again, not the time for excuses.
“It’s not unlike the kindergarten teachers and the third grade teachers and everyone around the country trying to put their best foot forward to teach people from home,” Mayock said. “That’s what I stress with all the veterans I talk to and every single rookie we drafted. Once we could get them integrated into our virtual program, we expect 100 percent attention. They better be ready to hit the ground running whenever we’re allowed to.”
The NFL will reassess the situation in mid-May to decide whether it’s safe to proceed with a normal phase two on-field program. It will depend on the advice and opinion of medical experts, but also whether all 32 teams get approval from their local officials to open their facilities. Unless all 32 teams are allowed to reopen, the NFL will move to a virtual phase two on-field program that will conclude June 26.
Ingold said he’s ready to roll either way.
“The different offseason is just an opportunity to lock in on the details and keep improving,” Ingold said. “It’s exciting getting a chance to prove how much football means to you through all of this and how dedicated you are to the process.”
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Contact Vincent Bonsignore at email@example.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore onTwitter.