GREEN BAY - Shortly after Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur was allowed to return to Lambeau Field last week, he already had considered when his players might do the same.
LaFleur, like his coaching peers throughout the NFL, has made the most of this spring’s virtual training. The Packers plan to conclude their offseason program virtually, a format that allows players to transcribe notes and learn at their own pace.
But the constant Zoom meetings present challenges. Sometimes a video might freeze, or conversations that might ordinarily occur never do.
Even with technology making the world smaller than ever, there’s nothing like having everyone together, inside the same room.
“There’s not as many distractions,” LaFleur said, “when you’re actually in the office and able to really hone in and focus on the work that needs to get done in order to be prepared for when training camp finally arrives.”
When the NFL opened team facilities to coaching staffs last week, LaFleur said he left the decision to enter Lambeau Field optional to his assistants. With the Packers operating remotely from their homes all offseason, a pattern of workplace production had set in for some. So whichever place they felt more comfortable — inside team facilities or their home office — was where they would continue to work. LaFleur said few coaches entered the building last week, but he suspected they would start trickling in.
Ryan Downard, the team’s assistant defensive backs coach, was the one assistant LaFleur knew wouldn’t be inside Lambeau Field. Downard and his wife, Julie, recently had a baby.
“That’s something I want to be very sensitive to,” LaFleur said. “I told him he’s the only one not allowed in our building.”
Otherwise, football operations took one step closer to normalcy. There are still several steps to go.
The league continued planning Monday for an eventual return to facilities. Teams received a nine-page memo from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell outlining return-to-work polices amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to multiple reports. The protocols included rearranging locker rooms to maintain proper social distancing, dividing areas inside team facilities into tiers of access and requiring anyone inside team facilities to wear masks whenever such coverings don’t interfere with athletic activities.
The memo was not approved by the NFL’s players association, according to reports.
LaFleur said the nature of this year’s virtual offseason will be especially challenging for rookies. There reportedly has been dialogue between the league and players association for incoming rookies and players changing teams — hence, in need of physicals — to access team facilities by June 26.
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The hope, LaFleur said, is that training camp starts on schedule in late July. It’s unclear how different this year’s camp might look. LaFleur said the possibility of players staying at their usual training camp home, the dormitories at St. Norbert in De Pere, is still being discussed. But LaFleur said he plans to bring rookies into camp one week early, a provision the NFL allows.
“That’s something we’ll certainly do to try to get them acclimated, to introduce them to some of the stuff that we want them to do on the field,” LaFleur said.
LaFleur was quarterbacks coach in Washington when the NFL had its lockout in the 2011 offseason, so he has experience in preparing teams for the season with minimal time together in the spring.
“That kind of gives you a little perspective of what needs to be done,” LaFleur said. “But it's one of those things, you really don't know until you get the guys back. I think just from ... one thing from my perspective is I know we have to be fluid and we've got to be flexible and ready to adjust to whatever circumstances may or may not arise throughout the duration of training camp.”