Packers assistant coaches persevering during pandemic; first camp practice set for Aug. 15
GREEN BAY - Assistant coaches don’t have a union and weren’t extended the same benefits the players received when they reached a side agreement with the NFL on COVID-19 matters.
There doesn’t seem to be a league-wide policy for allowing coaches to opt out of the season if they don’t feel safe, have someone at home who is at risk or become infected.
Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur stopped short of saying the club would excuse them for the season if they asked, but he said he did talk individually with each member of his staff to gauge their feelings.
“That’s something that we definitely talked to all of our staff members about, just making sure that they felt comfortable with the situation, with the protocols that we had in place,” LaFleur said Thursday. “I don’t think we had any reservations.
“These guys, just our nature as coaches it’s tough for us. Like we’ve had a few examples where guys have had symptoms of maybe a sore throat, but they haven’t had COVID but they’re forced to stay home.”
LaFleur said the coaches’ instinct is to work through any illness and they hate being away from the facility during the season. But he said they must take precautions and go home if they’re not feeling well.
If one coach comes down with the virus, it could spread through the staff and that would be disastrous. Like the players, the coaches are tested every day and must wear tracking devices so medical officials can trace where the virus might have spread in the building.
“I remember my first job back at Central Michigan as a grad assistant getting strep throat and you’re fighting through it, you’re throwing up and going to meetings,” LaFleur said. “But in this day and age, if any of these guys have any symptoms or whatnot, you’ve got to keep them home.”
So far, only five players have been quarantined among the team’s 84 players and 27 coaches. The Packers do not share whether support staff have tested positive or have come in close contact with the virus and are being quarantined.
First practice set
There is a practice schedule, but LaFleur made it clear that it is fluid and the number of practices as well as the dates and times could change as training camp goes along.
LaFleur said the team’s first practice will be Saturday, Aug. 15.
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League rules state that the first non-contact practice (held in helmets and shells) can begin on the 16th day following the completion of testing and full contact practices can begin on the 21st day. Under that scenario, the Packers would begin practicing in pads on Thursday, Aug. 20.
Teams may have no more than 14 padded practices and no more than six practices of any kind per week. There are 21 days to squeeze in those practices and any others the Packers don’t conduct in pads.
The cutdown to 53 is expected to remain on its scheduled date of Saturday, Sept. 5.
Funchess only opt-out
The deadline for opting out of the 2020 season passed with no other Packers players taking the option.
That means the only opt-out the Packers will have heading into their first practice Aug. 15 is free-agent receiver Devin Funchess.
In the NFC North, the Packers and Vikings had one player opt-out each and the Bears and Lions had two each.
A total of 66 players opted out.
There are two exceptions for players to opt-out now: if they are diagnosed as being “high risk,” or someone in their household gets seriously sick.
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst has final say over the team’s 53-man roster, but obviously he works in concert LaFleur regarding positional needs – and it sounded Thursday like they settled on keeping three quarterbacks on the roster for 2020.
Last season the club had Aaron Rodgers, Tim Boyle, DeShone Kizer and Manny Wilkins on the 90-man training camp roster until the final cut down before deciding Boyle would be the primary backup and Wilkins would head to the practice squad.
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This year, the team signed undrafted free-agent quarterback Jalen Morton out of Prairie View A&M to go with Rodgers, Boyle and No. 1 pick Jordan Love, but the team waived Morton after the other three quarterbacks passed their COVID-19 tests and physicals.
“I think it (waiving Morton) was twofold: Right now we’re at 80 in the building and so that played a part of it. Certainly it’s the lack of the preseason games,” LaFleur said Thursday via Zoom. “I think anytime throughout a training camp it’s really, really difficult to get four guys reps and especially meaningful reps where they can go out and you can see that improvement."