With Major League Baseball struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL is gearing up for a similar season regarding travel around the U.S. Questions and concerns are many for NFL teams, who began training camp Tuesday with testing and virtual meetings.

Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn addressed some of the issues with the coronavirus, as well as the status of his team, during his first training camp press conference on Tuesday.

On how the organization is doing with COVID-19 testing, strength and conditioning and when on-field coaching begins:

Quinn: “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. 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. 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.”

On if having additional space and dorms at the facility helps create some comfort for both players and coaches:

Quinn: “For sure, it’s unique. For a player to have their own space — you have all been in the locker room. It would have been very difficult to deal within the guidelines — so having that opportunity for us is significant. There’s a big TV. They can connect their iPads to that. There will definitely be some virtual meetings in there. Then, within the building, all of the classrooms had to be separated. So, it won’t be some of the positions in the same space. For instance, the offensive line will have to move to a different room. They just didn’t have the same space, so the Draft Room will be where the offensive line meets. Wide receivers will meet in the team room for spacing. So, the position groups that have more players, you needed bigger spaces to do that. That’s what I was referring to earlier about different spaces go — you could have more space when you are doing the in-person meeting — but as far as a locker room setup, it’s basically like for a player, having an office. As opposed to doing a virtual meeting from home, they can actually do it while on the campus. We’re going to try to take advantage of that the best we can and make sure that we don’t rush back and have to relax ever on protocols. I think one thing on our country, ‘Hey man. Let’s stay the course and have the discipline to make the right decisions — masks, washing hands — on the things that we can control.’ This is a big piece of it, for sure, having the space in the back.”

On if the COVID-19 outbreak with the Miami Marlins gave him cause for concern for the NFL season:

Quinn: “I did bring that up when we had a discussion about that. How does travel affect that? With testing, when you go on the road and when you don’t, all of those things factor in. I was, like a lot of us, watching baseball for the first time over the past few nights and it was good to see that. I was disappointed to read that the outbreak had affected games being played. It’s definitely something that we’ve all discussed, yes.”

On the importance of preseason games for coaches’ evaluation of rookies and how coaches can replicate that this year without having a preseason:

Quinn: “It’s also a stressor for the player, too. Especially, for the player that’s fighting for a roster spot. ‘When are my moments to prove to myself of what I can do?’ So, put yourself into that spot as well, not just evaluating, but the stress on them. We’re going to try to create some moments that are situation-specific that will be non-scripted that we will do our very best to create a game-like situation, a scrimmage, so to speak. We’ll do as many of those leading up to the season as we can. That’s the first step to it. It’s not scripted. You don’t know the play. Let’s go match up and see how we do. We’re going to try to make as many competitive moments as we can, especially for the players that need a lot of evaluations.”

On the impact of not having joint practices on young players during this training camp:

Quinn: “We’re going to try to create scrimmage situations. Doing that, as opposed to those practices that we were going to have with Buffalo and Miami and into the games, we’re going to try to create reps for them. So, actually, I recently went back and looked at what’s the typical amount a rookie might have played in the preseason through the years. We’re moving in this direction in years to come with fewer games, but I’m trying to find out and evaluate how many reps did we give a normal player in preseason? Those scrimmage days, I think, are going to be an important part of the evaluation because that’s the very best that we can do at the moment. So, we’re going to create those opportunities and moments to let those players do their thing and get a real chance to evaluate them.”

On the challenge for undrafted rookies to make the 53-man roster given the nature of the 2020 offseason:

Quinn: “I think you’re wanting to see those traits. Like, ‘alright, he’s got the knowledge now. He’s gone through the program.’ When you’re seeing him match up, there could be some creative matchups from the coaching staff to see some highlights and one-on-ones — run to here or throw it to there. We’ll do a little setup. ‘Let’s put runners on second and third and put the guy at the plate at practice,’ so to speak. We’re going to have to find ways to put people in spaces where it’s going to go — we’ll always do that in situation – I’m not talking about two-minute end of half or end of game, but specific to a player. We can control some of that in a scrimmage situation. ‘Alright, this is a shot play outside.’ ‘Let’s see so-and-so run that play.’ ‘Let’s get a matchup with a running back and a linebacker.’ Those are things where we will try to have to create some when we can.”

On if he is confident that the NFL will make it through a full football season after seeing the challenges MLB is facing:

Quinn: “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. 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. So, training camp this year will be the first time where a player can or may or may not stay here. But, having the opportunities in the building, they have been helpful to know that there is lot of spaces, lots of testing, lots of protocols, meals separated. Coming in, you just have to follow the rules. You come in, put your mask on and follow the rules and everything kind of takes care of itself. Away is where I think it will feel different. Making the decisions, the best ones we can, that are basically living the same life that you guys are right now from home. You’re not in here, so it’s the same guidelines that you’re following and we’re all following when we leave the office.”

On if he wears a mask on the field while coaching and how that has been:

Quinn: “I do, yes. The biggest part is to not do this, which I’m sure people with masks, when they don’t hear you, (lowers mask) to do that. That defeats the purpose of wearing the mask. So, we’ve worked hard with that. I’m sure we’ve all had that space where when someone doesn’t hear you, you pull your mask down. No, you move a little closer and say, ‘Hey man, this is what we have to do.’ As far as out on the field with everybody, I haven’t done that yet. I’m exploring some ways to say when we’re doing a situation and I have a mask, I want to say, ‘OK, there’s 1:11 left, one timeout, down four.’ So, whether I use a bullhorn to get that information out or pass it down the line, there are some things where we will have to do that with the team because I don’t get to shout in the normal way with a mask. I use a couple of different ones during the day. At practice, I’ll wear one that can really stay on and be secure. I’ll sweat through those and I’ll be on to the next one. I’m prepared for it. It will basically be on all of the day because I’m usually around someone. Someone’s coming in the office, I’m in a meeting, I’m at practice, I’m at a walk-through. So, I’ve got a whole arsenal. You grab the next one, you grab the next one, you grab the next one. You are all probably the same way. You’ve got three or four in your car, three or four at your desk, three or four at home, and just starting to get used to it.”

On if he has considered keeping QB Matt Ryan away from the rest of the team to ensure he is healthy:

Quinn: “It’s a good topic and one that I’ve heard brought up before. It seems difficult to do that where somebody is away from the team all the way. Virtual meetings, some space to do – wearing your mask – that’s the biggest piece of it. As far as him being isolated from the club, that’s not Matt, that’s not us. So, what we will do is make sure that we’re following all of the guidelines. This is not a space where we’ll be like, ‘Eh, it’s just Matt and me, so I’ll take my mask off.’ That’s not how it’s going to go. The discipline to stay connected to the process, that’s a big piece of it. Like most things, I told some of the rookies today, I said, ‘None of you guys were born before seatbelts were required. When I was a kid, you could climb up to the front, go to the back, you didn’t need a seatbelt. You wouldn’t go anywhere without wearing a seatbelt.’ I said wearing a mask is like our seatbelt. You just put it on and go forward and then it just gets normal. Now you wouldn’t drive to the end of the driveway to grab your mail without a seatbelt. It’s what you do. So, these masks are what we do because pro ball, pro sports, we’re around one another. So, we don’t get to do the majority at home. The majority is together. So, when you’re working together, you find those protocols and do it. Masks, to me, are a big part of that. They’re doing some tracing and that, too. That’s harder to see because you’re just following your own instincts and guidelines, that will be better, but on the field, at practice, you’re not going to think, ‘Maybe I should make my splits six feet from the center.’ That doesn’t seem like such a good idea.”

On if he has decided to limit RB Todd Gurley’s repetitions in practice during training camp:

Quinn: “We’re going to make the right decisions for him and for all of the guys. Often times, it’s not one size fits all. For me, getting to know Todd, I’ll get a better sense after the next few weeks of us together what’s the right amount? How many back-to-back? All of those things, we’ll take into consideration. But, no process together on that yet until we spend some time together. You’re right about him being in fantastic shape. We’re fortunate, learning-wise, offense, he’s in great shape. He’s in the same guidelines with everybody else. But, we’ll make the best decisions for guys that have an injury history as far as practice goes. So, he’s no different from Julio (Jones) in that regard where we just make sure the best reps, the ones he absolutely has to have, we do that with other players as well.”

On if it will be recommended for players to wear face shields on their helmets this season:

Quinn: “I think of a shield as a normal one. It would be just a second shield on the bottom, so to speak. I think it will be a little bit custom. There would be some that would want to do it. Some, I think they’re going to have to practice with it and see and try it out and what it feels like. I think until we get to that space where they can actually wear them — can you communicate? was one of the questions I had. How would that work with Matt (Ryan)? I think one thing that’s different from the voices on the shield, it’s a little bit further out, so you could probably hear it, as opposed to where the mask that is secure up on your face, the shield would still have some space where there is air between there. So, I don’t know yet. I told you that was going to be some of my responses as we go. I would imagine a lot of players will try them in practice. ‘Do I like it? Do I not like it?’, and like most things, I think some will use them and I think some won’t.”

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