ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Not even during practice – practice! – will the Broncos get away from those small, rectangular contact tracers.
This protocol-filled 2020 training camp is defined by contact tracers, a box-like device with a sensor that determines when a person is within six feet of another. The coaches and players get them as they walk into UCHealth Training Center each day, and they will have them snapped onto their jerseys when they head out for their first, full-squad training camp practice Friday morning.
Even though there will be contact, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, in the playing of football, contact tracers will there to measure data, and keep players and coaches at a respectable distance during the down times of each practice.
“Omaha! Omaha!” has been replaced by, “Beep! Beep!”
“There’s no wiggle room,’’ Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said last week. “The protocols are what they are. We’ve got to abide by them and move past it. Once we’re on the field … it does feel normal. The good thing is our guys are excited to be here. The overwhelming feeling I’ve gotten from the players as a group and individually is they’re all very happy to be here and they’re ready to go.’’
The Broncos, particularly those who play offense, needed training camp regardless of form months ago. They are so very young on offense, and they also have a new offensive coordinator. And so little time to coordinate.
Second-year quarterback Drew Lock, newcomer guard Graham Glasgow and running back Melvin Gordon, and rookie receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler didn’t come together during offseason training activities (OTAs) and they won’t work out the kinks during preseason games because no such thing existed in the worldwide coronavirus pandemic year of 2020.
“It might not be the prettiest at first, but our job is to make the mistake, learn from it and try not to make that mistake more than once because we really don’t have time to keep making the same mistakes,’’ Lock said.
Come Monday night, September 14 against the Tennessee Titans – who have a returning quarterback (Ryan Tannehill), running back (Derrick Henry) and offensive coordinator (Arthur Smith) – the young Broncos will have to strap on the pads, presumably snap in the contact tracers (although the Broncos aren’t yet sure if the gadgets will be required during games) and play ball.
“Yes, we are young, but when you’re young, you’re pretty hungry right as you get in here,’’ Lock said. “Maybe we could be at an advantage being young and having a lot of motivation whereas guys who have been in for a long time—I know they’re still hungry because they want to be super good, but maybe they’ll take a little off—‘We know stick (pass route term). I’m not going to write my notes on stick.’’’
The Broncos will get a full practice in helmets and shells Friday, take Saturday off, have a similar practice Sunday, then put on full pads for the first time Monday.
Beep! Beep! There go the contact tracers. With no fans allowed to watch training camp this year, maybe those gadgets will be audible amid the grunts and groans, poppin’ pads and coaches’ whistles.
Football and social distancing will never rival peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper or Q-tip swaps and nostrils as natural pairings. But both will be recommended in this strange training camp of 2020.
At least professional football is open for business, which can’t be said of other ventures.
“I’m extremely appreciative of everyone that has put the work in to be able to make my job still happen where I can still have what I love go on,’’ Lock said. “My dad loved going into the restaurant business and going into all his restaurants and seeing all his people. That got shut down to where he wasn’t able to do that. He wasn’t able to do what he loved the most.
“Everyone’s work, all the time and effort that’s been put in to allowing me to be in to be able to throw a football on a field, it really makes me appreciate this game more because there’s the thought that we might not play, there are a lot of unanswered questions.
“Now that we’re here, it feels amazing. I know everyone else around me feels the same thing.”
Strap it on, guys. And don’t forget the tracers.