Let’s assume for a second that the coronavirus pandemic is solved by Week 1 of the NFL season. Getting football back would be excellent as we attempt to heal from the damage that coronavirus has inflicted upon the world, but it wouldn’t be the football that we’re used to.
The quality would be much, much worse.
Football is a sport that takes an incredible amount of organization and synchronization to make the most simple plays work. Even after months of preparation in a normal year, preseason football is usually a mess and it takes the starters weeks to reach the peak of their play.
We’re already at a point where there won’t be any offseason workouts prior to training camp being scheduled for late July. No offseason workouts for teams with new or returning coaches, no rookie minicamps, and no organized team activities before the six week summer break.
Without that practice time together, the players won’t be able to put the best product together when the season does start. We’ve seen a few NFL players like Lamar Jackson and Dak Prescott violate social distancing rules and bring their teammates together to throw passes, but that’s not a good substitute for normal practice.
That time is instrumental for installing offensive and defensive plays, getting used to strength programs, and developing chemistry with teammates. These events don’t create big stories, but they’re instrumental in terms of creating a well-oiled machine by the time the regular season starts in September.
Right now, players who signed with new teams during free agency are attempting to learn plays and playbooks via Zoom meetings with their coaches. Soon, there are going to be a host of new draft picks and undrafted rookies in the same situation. For each team, there will be an influx of new players that won’t have any hands-on help from their coaches or teammates who have spent multiple years with the franchise.
The lack of preparation time is going to hit teams with new coaches even harder. For example, the Giants haven’t been able to meet much in person since the NFL Combine at the end of February, right before the country started to put strict social distancing guidelines into place. They’ll have to implement an entirely new offense and defense without being able to be near their players.
All of this will add up to have a supremely negative effect on the final product (keeping the assumption that the season starts on time).
The NFL went through something similar in 2011 during the lockout season when players were barred from using team facilities to workout. But that year, the Hall of Fame Game was the only thing that was canceled before a CBA was agreed upon. The current pandemic is a much more dubious obstacle to overcome because it is literally dangerous for teammates to be around each other at the moment.
If all of the NFL’s scheduled practice programs are wiped out for safety reasons, expect some cringeworthy games at the start of the season. Players and coaches will be learning on the fly and the game will be worse off because of it.
©2020 New York Daily News