The turf or the chair

An ongoing debate of going virtual for the NFL’s training camps


Creative Commons

Quarterbacks Mike White (7) and Dak Prescott (4) hone in on their skills during a training camp in 2018. Prescott would go on to have a gruesome, season ending injury in 2020. After accepting a record breaking offer from Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys, Prescott hopes to set the league on fire and be the next Comeback Player Of The Year. Photo by Creative Commons.

Logan Moseley, Staff Reporter

Last year, with COVID-19 being a top concern , the National Football League decided it was best to have a completely virtual off-season. Teams met via Zoom and eased into training camp. We were able to have a better understanding of how this worked in HBO’s docuseries “Hard Knocks”, which followed the Los Angeles Chargers and Rams. At first, the teams met virtually for about a week. They later transitioned into 50/50, and the final weeks of training camp were all in-person.

Now, a year later, the NFL has made a statement requiring players to go back to the original Organized Team Activities (OTAs) which was all in-person. This has come with severe backlash from the NFL Players Association, specifically Cleveland Browns Center J.C. Tretter, the president of the NFLPA.

Tretter, along with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, said in a memo: “A number of players recently tested positive [for COVID-19] at team facilities.” They followed by saying: “NFL players who contracted COVID last season can become infected again.” 

The end of the memo said the NFLPA does not recommend that players and coaches participate in an in-person training camp.

Shortly after this was released, the Chicago Bears, Browns, New York Giants, Las Vegas Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, Chargers, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Rams, San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans all opted out of the voluntary workouts, and other teams still making decisions,

with most citing last year’s off-season which showed they are not as important as once thought.

Players themselves said that going virtual or getting rid of the off-season itself might be the future, as Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth said on the potential future of an off-season.

“So I think you’re going to see a transition,” Whitworth said. “COVID obviously was serious [and an issue and was part of it], but I think it’s also going to be kind of a stopping point where guys are going to say, ‘You know what, I had a tremendous year, and I didn’t go to the facility once in the offseason, and I didn’t hardly go through camp, and I had a great year.’ And I think guys are going to finally say, ‘You know what, I’m just going to do what I do in the offseason, and I’ll see you guys come August.’”

As someone who finds the off-season and OTA period very interesting, I wanted to look at a couple of aspects to see if it was worth it to go full remote. Injuries, offense, defense and fouls were what seemed to be the big things that would be impacted the most with reduced off-seasons.

The first big thing with injuries is there is a lesser chance for players to get injured during training camp. Chargers safety and star player Derwin James is often thought as one of the best players to play on the field when healthy but has been out for almost a full year because of injury. He did get injured during training

camp, but it was on a low-contact play. The same thing happened for the Dallas Cowboys Defensive Tackle Gerald McCoy. On a non-contact drill, he injured his right quadriceps, and it took him out for the rest of the season. Overall, there was no significant spike in major preseason injuries compared to the year prior.

The regular season had much different results, as there were 801 total injuries. That did go down a bit from 2019. Many assume the lack of conditioning was the cause of this, as there were some notable injuries that took place early. Cowboys star quarterback Dak Prescott went down with a freak ankle injury, to the point you could see the ankle twisted and out of shape. Other notable players to go down were Giants running back Saquan Barkley and Carolina Panthers running back Christain McCaffery. The 49ers had a vast array of injuries, having star defensive end Nick Bosa tear his ACL, and then defensive end Soloman Thomas losing his ACL the very next play. They also lost quarterback Jimmy Garapolo for most of the season, and speedster running back Raheem Mostert also played limited downs after suffering various knee injuries. These injuries were all at the beginning of the season, and with the little amount near the end. 

The passing game is the hardest part to get down with limited offseason work, as it mainly relies on the rhythm of the quarterback and how he wants specific routes to be run. Overall, the league accounted for 164,557 yards passing, and while it was a bit of a decline, last year’s quarterback free agency class could be one of the most prolific ever in terms of movement across the league.

With growing offenses, this leads to defense having worse statistics than what are really presented

One thing that I instantly thought was the foul trouble. In the 2020 season, there were 2,778 fouls. Back in 2019, there were 3,558 fouls. That is a huge drop off, and quite frankly, it was suppressing. The impact of no fans could have been a reason, but that is only in set stadiums. 

It may be the right idea to go remote, as there was a significant decrease in injuries, the same product of play and a better overall fan experience with less fouls. There would be some trouble to work around, as players took significant injuries. There just seems to be too many pros both on and off the field, like players getting to stay with their families. While the NFL has never been known as a forward thinking league, there is a huge chance to make a sharper image for themselves, which has been tainted for the past couple of years now.