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Buffalo Bills preparing for training camp under coronavirus cloud

Sean McDermott spoke with the media about it recently.

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills are scheduled to open training camp in roughly one month. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Bills and every other team will be holding training camp at their full-time facility instead of traveling to a secondary location. Bills head coach Sean McDermott spoke with the media recently detailing some of his concerns with training camp and how the team is approaching the practices amid COVID-19.

“There’s certainly some challenges out there. You know the protocol is the protocol however, we’ll see,” said McDermott. “One thing we have on our side at this point is some time, we’ve got some time on our side. I think the other thing is our approach at the Bills, and I’ll speak on just the Bills, our approach is that we’re going to do our best to find a way, to find a solution and to make sure we do things the right way. So you know all those things I think go into.”

Both New York State and the NFL have protocols in place to protect players and staff but also the competitive balance of the NFL. The league still hasn’t said training camps can proceed, knowing that some states still have gyms closed and are limiting group gatherings.

On Wednesday, New York State issued an order along with New Jersey and Connecticut forcing travelers from several recently hard-hit states to self-quarantine for two weeks before interacting with the population. That would include a bunch of Bills players traveling from Florida, the Carolinas, Texas, and beyond.

Once they are back in the facility, McDermott’s main goal is to keep it business as usual for the players to get back into their routines.

“Certainly not normal times right now, but we’re going to do our best to keep it as normal as possible, so that our players can come into our building and achieve the best version of themselves because that’s really what we’re here to do is develop players,” said McDermott. “The best way [we can develop players] in these times is to give them the best feeling of normalcy while abiding by the protocols that was asked about earlier, to make sure that we’re doing our best, or as best as we can to keep everyone as safe and as healthy as possible.”

Behind the scenes, McDermott and the Bills’ staff have been planning for multiple contingencies. Obviously, things have continued to change rapidly over the last several months and sometimes on very short turnaround times. Being prepared for multiple scenarios is crucial.

“At the same time that we have plans, we have contingency plans in place, just based on how things have been going in our country. There’s probably a pretty good chance this could come up here in Buffalo,” said McDermott. “And the better question is how are we going to respond? And what is our plan? And so, there’s really a lot of the conversations around, again as we look at our total and thorough plan, not just on the field or off the field, but now asking those questions. The what ifs. ‘Hey, what if this happens?’ And you just kind of fill in the blank for what that is. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go and so obviously that makes you communicate and makes you over-communicate. And so it’s definitely unique in terms of preparing, but we’ve got smart people in this building.”

The spacing of the locker room is the most difficult hurdle, according to McDermott. The team’s Orchard Park locker loom is designed to fit the 53-man active roster and the 10-man practice squad without spacing restrictions. Now, you’re going to have 91 players in training camp plus spacing restrictions. But those aren’t the only bodies McDermott was worried about.

“Right, and then you guys on top of that,” said McDermott, making a reference to the media on the conference call. “That was my biggest concern yesterday. We walked through, we took about two or three hours and walked through what we feel like would be the best plan for training camp with our ops staff as well and so that in and of itself was new. You know, usually when we go to St. John Fisher, we know what to expect at this point. And so, the plans, there’s a lot of work being put into the prep side of this and making sure again the protocol and then just the overall experience for our players.”

He didn’t offer specifics beyond the walk-through. That’s probably for the best now, as the constant change could make what he said moot.

The NFL is set to open training camp on July 28th. It remains to be seen if they’ll actually hit that goal.