The buildup to the 2020 NFL season is going to look and feel a lot different because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the biggest adjustments teams must make is the absence of preseason games, which the league canceled earlier this week. These matchups are a great way for coaches to evaluate their players and make the best roster decisions. It's impossible to duplicate the intensity of a game situation in practice, so there's a lot of benefit to seeing how players react in these scenarios against real opponents and not just their teammates on the practice field.
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In his first media session of the training camp period, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick gave his take on the lack of preseason action. He compared it to what college football programs go through each year.
“We’ll just have to take advantage of our practice opportunities and create as much combination of competition to evaluate the players, and also situations to get our players ready to play in regular season games, and combine those things as we go forward,” Belichick said in a video conference call. "So, it’ll be a little bit different setup, but that’s what college teams do every year. I think ever since the beginning of college football back in, well, I don’t know about all the way back when Rutgers started in the 1870s, but that’s the way it’s been. You go to camp for three weeks, and then you start the season. There are no preseason games, and you evaluate your team, and you get ready to play. That’s what all college football teams do. I don’t think it’s anything that’s revolutionary here.
“We haven’t done it that way in the National Football League for a while, and I certainly haven’t done it that way. I haven’t coached in college, but as a college player and growing up around college programs, I can remember those periods of time leading up to the start of the season. Teams had their scrimmages or whatever you want to call them and ways to prepare their team, and at the same time evaluate the players. It’s a process that certainly goes into the early part of the season. This is just football, that’s all. I don’t really see it any differently.”
The Patriots should have more training camp competition than normal given the high amount of turnover on their roster since the end of last season. The defense has been hit particularly hard, not just by the free agent and trade departures earlier in the offseason, but also the recent player opt outs due to coronavirus concerns.
The elimination of the preseason will create unfamiliar challenges for coaches in evaluating players ahead of Week 1, but given Belichick's many decades of experience at the NFL level, the Patriots are well-equipped to handle these uncertain times.