The year 2020 hasn't been the least bit normal, but it's the middle of August and NFL training camp is here.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic still being extremely prevalent in the United States, the NFL and its players association have agreed to several protocols to help conduct a season in as safe of a manner as possible. Such include daily testing, frequent social distancing and the elimination of all preseason contests.
So, as Washington gears up for the 2020 season, which begins in almost exactly a month, NBC Sports Washington's Brian Mitchell explains the three most important things the team must do over the next few weeks to be as prepared as possible for when the Philadelphia Eagles come to town on Sept. 13.
The first key, which comes as no surprise, is that players must do everything they can to stay healthy and limit their risk of being exposed to those who have contracted the virus.
"First of all, the players must take care of themselves off the football field," Mitchell said.
In an interview with local media on Tuesday, veteran Ryan Kerrigan stressed the importance of players being as careful and aware of their surroundings when they are away from the facility as they are when inside the Park. Some teams, such as the Dallas Cowboys, have had players all check-in to the same hotel during camp and create their own mini bubble to limit the risk of contracting the virus.
"People think it’s what we do here at the [facility] that’s important, but really, we’re taking all the protocols here at the [facility]," Kerrigan said. "It’s how you’re handling it away from [the facility], how you’re handling it at home. You’ve just got to make sure you’re taking the proper precautions and mask up. We’re all dependent on each other to have a season, so we’ve really got to be responsible not only here but socially."
On the field, Mitchell believes that one of the crucial things Washington must figure out over the next few weeks is how the left side of the offensive line will look.
"They have to find a way to get that left side solidified if they're going to have a chance to go with Dwayne Haskins, have the young receiver group go out and do some things and have that talented running back room go out and do what they need to do," Mitchell said.
Longtime Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams is now in San Francisco, while left guard Ereck Flowers left Washington for Jacksonville in free agency this offseason. Washington has a few candidates vying for the starting gig at both left tackle and left guard, but what the starting lineup will look like in Week 1 remains a mystery.
The team has promising young talent at the skill positions on offense. But as Mitchell said, it'll be hard to see that young talent maximize its potential if the Washington offensive line is struggling in 2020.
Mitchell's final point as to what will make a successful camp has to do with players maximizing their time on the field.
"Players learn in the room and then out on the field. All they've been doing is studying," Mitchell said. "Now, they need to make sure it's implemented properly, then they can go out there and hit the ground running. If you're thinking, you're not going to be performing well."
In a normal year, the second week of August usually means teams are practicing with full pads and already have a preseason game or two under the belt. But due to coronavirus wiping out all in-person offseason activities, much of what Washington has done thus far resembles an OTAs session in May, rather than a typical training camp practice in August.
With no preseason games, there are plenty of question marks up and down Washington's roster that won't have an answer until Week 1. That lack of exposure to other teams before the regular season begins is something head coach Ron Rivera said could give Washington an advantage, but also something that makes his job over the next few weeks a lot more difficult.
While the team's opening contest is still over 30 days away, there's still plenty Washington must accomplish over the next month in order to come out victorious in the opener and start its season on the right foot.
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