How do you coach if you don’t really know, trainer?
The first in the new normal of football, said Sean McVay, is to trust the players. You can hold virtual meetings to provide information, and you can ensure that the athletes have the right tools to keep themselves in shape. But as long as the coronavirus pandemic continues and teams cannot really enter the field as a group, the responsibility lies with the players to follow the plan.
Yes, it is difficult for players. It is also difficult for coaches.
“It’s not normal,” said the Rams coach at a recent Zoom conference with reporters. “I mean the thing that gets you most excited is that you can get on the field, work with the players and connect with them at those levels. That’s where the real joy comes in.
“But I’m just thankful that we can connect somehow. Everyone’s dealing with this, so let’s make the most of it. Let’s do the best with the circumstances and situation we’re dealing with. And hopefully when that time comes that we can get together, we hope to gather enough good information above the neck.
“They will stay in physical shape (enough) based on some of the programs, and just the overall intrinsic motivation that the players have that will allow us to be seamless if we can when we get back to playing real American football . ”
Does it work?
“It’s different, very different,” said wide receiver Josh Reynolds in a media video conference after last month’s first day of virtual team activity. “It started out crazy. I think McVay sent us a link with no audio, so we all tried to hear each other for the first 10 minutes. I think Brock (Michael Brockers) was the only one who could talk to people because he was the one who threw it all the time.
“But it was good to see everyone’s face and get going again.”
VTAs will never really replace OTAs, organized team activities as the preferred method for off-season work. The Zoom conferences allow teammates to renew acquaintances, and while it’s a different type of bond, it’s still a bond.
Defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, signed as a free Detroit agent, tries to learn about the defensive plan of the Rams and his new teammates. The new way is OK, but you can see he misses the old way.
“Just coming there (on the field), hanging out and getting to know the boys, seeing body language on and off the field, you miss that,” he said during a recent video conference.
Team chemistry is affected. Conditioning is affected. The Rams can send any player up to $ 1,500 worth of conditioning equipment (and Reynolds said he would order a Peloton exercise bike), and Reggie Scott and the training staff know full well that in other years where training camp or off-season work was affected (aka lockouts), increased soft tissue injuries were among the consequences.
And virtual meetings without reinforcement on the field influence the flow of information, both for visual learners (who need to see something to pick it up) and especially kinesthetic learners (who need to take an activity to understand it).
There is still no definitive idea of what the future will look like. McVay acknowledged that the training camp at UC Irvine is still uncertain; even if the Rams go, the details are likely to change and there will almost certainly not be a fan, unlike the team’s first four summers at UCI.
(Besides, no training camp probably doesn’t mean a joint appearance of Rams-Chargers on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” That’s a slap.)
And while no one in the league should speculate on what could eventually happen to the schedule, Roger Goodell’s edict will likely open the SoFi stadium in Inglewood without fans. Week 1 topples Sunday night with Dallas can be played on time, can be pushed back or can even be dropped altogether, although that third option is the absolute last resort.
So right now the idea is to prepare as if the season is going to go as expected, but be flexible and prepared for anything.
“We are moving forward with the expectation, the optimism that we will play a full season and we will kick off the Cowboys,” said McVay. “And that’s really all I can do. You know, it’s a cliché, check controllability, but it’s true. All the wasted energy and attention to something else takes it away.
“Hopefully we’re going to play a game. But right now, we’re having a great third week of this virtual low season. Let’s take advantage of more rest and things like that. And right now I think it was a great opportunity for many people to think and have a perspective that you might not have otherwise.
“You certainly wouldn’t want us going through these things, but I’m feeling pretty good right now.”
After all, it is only May.
@Jim_Alexander on Twitter