As NFL teams have begun to ramp up activities in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many have begun to speculate about worst-case scenarios that could arise.
What would happen to a team if its head coach tests positive just a few days before the season opener? Are teams prepared to withstand losing multiple starters at a single position? How can teams ensure the starting quarterback remains healthy?
That final question is among the most common as the NFL tries to operate in a environment, which includes daily testing, mask requirements and social distancing policies, among many other safety precautions. Yet, there's no way to fully guarantee players won't be exposed at some point.
Quarterback is the most valuable position in football. Teams have invested the most resources into their starting quarterback, and it's likely the most difficult position to replace for a majority of the clubs around the league. Given the importance of the starting quarterback, would a team take extra precautions and keep their top passer entirely isolated throughout training camp?
Falcons coach Dan Quinn was posed a question along those lines during a press conference with local media on Tuesday, and while he understood why it was being asked, he explained that it would not be the way Atlanta would handle things with Matt Ryan.
"It's a good topic and one that I've heard brought up before," Quinn said. "It seems difficult to do that where somebody is away from the team all the way. Virtual meetings, some space to do – wearing your mask – that's the biggest piece of it. As far as him being isolated from the club, that's not Matt, that's not us. So, what we will do is make sure that we're following all of the guidelines."
Throughout the duration of his press conference, Quinn expressed his confidence in the guidelines that the league has put into place. Those guidelines apply to every coach, player and staff member at team facilities, and the Falcons will adhere to those guidelines across the board, Quinn said, so there shouldn't be a reason for someone like Ryan to need extra isolation.
With his team, Quinn said he expressed the important of being the best teammate possible, and that extends to doing the right things as it pertains to COVID-19.
"Around the league, a number of us are going to have to be the best teammates that we've ever been because we're going to not only have to look after one another, but really looking after your families too because we're going to make the best decisions off the field," Quinn said. "I think we've also learned you can do all of the right steps and still have positive tests. We'll take them. When those happen, we'll deal with them and that's why the protocols are in place."
The Falcons are uniquely set up to keep players apart in a way most teams might not be. There are dorms on the campus of the team's practice facility where the players stay during each training camp. Now, those dorms will also function as each player's personal locker room and as an office where they can attend virtual meetings.
In-person meetings will still have to take place, but the Falcons are doing everything they can to ensure that spacing protocols are followed. Position groups with more players, such as the offensive line or wide receivers, will be meeting in rooms much larger than those they would have in previous years. By coupling the natural space they have with their dorm rooms with manufactured space they've created inside of the facility, the Falcons are hoping to give players and coaches as much distance as possible.
By taking these precautions and trusting in the policies the league has put into place, there shouldn't be a need for special treatment with certain players, even the starting quarterback.
"Having the opportunities in the building, they have been helpful to know that there is lot of spaces, lots of testing, lots of protocols, meals separated," Quinn said. "Coming in, you just have to follow the rules. You come in, put your mask on and follow the rules and everything kind of takes care of itself."
The Atlanta Falcons have arrived for 2020 AT&T Training Camp.