Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn spoke to reporters Wednesday via Zoom call about the preparations made at the team's Allen Park practice facility and protocols moving forward as players, coaches and support staff returned Tuesday for COVID-19 testing in preparation for the start of training camp.
Here are 10 takeaways from that session:
1. Building preparations
The Allen Park training facility looks much different from last year. There are touch-less soap and hand sanitizer dispensers spread throughout the building, a new air filtration system the doctors and medical staff pushed for, new open-air coolers and Clorox 360 backpack sprayers the cleaning staff will use to disinfect the building multiple times per day (especially the high-touch areas).
The facility underwent 10 full-building cleanings (the most recent last weekend). There are plexiglass dividers between lockers in the locker room, and additional lockers were brought in for the center of the locker room to promote social distancing.
2. Dining operation revamped
Quinn said this was the RTWC's (Return to work committee) biggest challenge in preparing for the return of players, coaches and staff. The team brought in a huge tent they connected to their dining hall to help space people out.
Buffet style lunches are out, and everything is now pre-packaged. The Lions have an app for everyone's phone where people can order breakfast, lunch and dinner in advance, so it's ready to be picked up.
"Our goal is by the second week of camp that we have the majority of everybody using the app," Quinn said. "It's going to be a little bit of trial and error and kind of getting the coaches and players up to speed, but so far I'd say in the first couple days it's been outstanding."
3. Getting creative with meeting spaces
Every meeting room has a max capacity sign on the door to promote social distancing. There are a limited number of chairs in each meeting room. The indoor field will be utilized for larger meetings.
For example, the 120-person team meeting room can now only hold 34 people, so it's the offensive line meeting room now. The quarterback room, which is the smallest meeting room in Allen Park can no longer be used because of spacing requirements. That room can hold just four people under new protocols, and with three quarterbacks on the roster and usually more than one coach in that room, it's now a storage room.
Every player, coach and staff member will wear a tracing tracker when in the building. It's not a GPS system that tracks where a person is in the building, but rather a contact tracer that tells people in different tier systems if they're too close to a person they're not supposed to be in contact with from another tier. The system blinks red or makes noise if a tier 3 employee gets within six feet to a tier 1 or tier 2 employee they're not supposed to have contact with.
5. Education is important
Unlike the NBA and the NHL, the NFL is not keeping players in a bubble. That means when players are away from Allen Park, there's an expectation they do the right things to mitigate their risk of contracting the virus and potentially spreading it to fellow players, coaches and staff. The Lions have conducted Zoom meetings with players, coaches, support staff and their families to help educate them in this regard.
"I feel comfortable walking into this facility every day because I know everyone around me is going to be tested all the time," Quinn said. "What I don't know is what people are doing when they leave and go home. So, we have to have a lot of trust. We have to have a lot of education. We have to have a lot of mature decisions when people leave the facility.
"Education, PPE and just being smart about what's going on is going to be probably just as important as the actual testing itself."
6. Keeping the 90-man roster
The NFL gave teams the option of keeping 90 players on the roster, but if they did, they would need to operate in a split-squad environment with rookies separate from veterans.
If teams wanted to operate in a full-squad environment, they were required to trim the roster to 80 players.
Quinn opted to keep 90 on the roster because he feels everyone on the roster has something to show him.
"For the first little bit of camp we're going to do things with that split-squad scenario, so we're not going to have everyone in the building at the same time," Quinn said. "We're going to do virtual meetings, they're going to come in for their workouts and we're going to stagger it and try to keep the distance as much as possible before we have real practice starting in that second and third phase."
7. Preparing for every scenario
How does the current outbreak in the MLB with the Miami Marlins concern Quinn? He noted that the NFL testing is far more expansive than the MLB testing, but he said the outbreak is certainly concerning.
If a Lions player tests positive, they have a medical protocol they'll follow based on the contact tracing. Quinn said that will be a medical decision. They will get a list of who has to sit out and go from there.
8. Contract negotiations
"Again, you guys know my stance on talking about contract negotiations in the media," Quinn said. "I don't do it. So, I'm going to punt on that question. We'll have internal conversations on all that stuff and if there's something to report, there will be something to report."
9. Free agents & tryouts TBD
As of right now, there are no protocols in place to bring in new players for workouts or sign free agents.
"The league is working on this and they're supposed to be letting us know how we can do that," Quinn said. "We can bring somebody in for a physical and send them to our doctor's office offsite, but we cannot physically see that person here, or work them out.
"That's going to be a challenge and then the onboarding process of claiming a player, trading for a player, signing our free agent during the season – all that stuff, honestly, I don't have a lot of information on because they haven't told us because that's a whole different protocol than the protocol that is in place with the players that are currently on your roster. So, that's a big question that I think everybody in my seat around the league is waiting for more guidance on."
10. New normal
From preparing Allen Park for the arrival of players, coaches and support staff with testing and social distancing, to educating players on what they should do when they're away from the facility to keep themselves and their families safe, it looks and sounds like the NFL and the Lions have taken all the proper steps to ensure football can be played in the safest manner possible.