The Buffalo Bills open their facility to all 81 players on the active roster today. They’ve all passed their COVID-19 tests and are ready to ramp up to the 2020 NFL season. Before all of that happens, general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott spoke with the media via video conference. Below are their unedited responses.
General Manager Brandon Beane
Sunday, August 2, 2020
Q: Brandon, thank you for doing this. And the first thing I guess in in a broader sense is how, how’s it going there? Can you walk us through some of the details of what is happening internally with the procedures? And second part, with Star (Lotulelei’s) opt out, have you heard from any other players who are going to?
A: Yeah, I mean, first off, I’ll answer your second question first. E.J. Gaines is going to opt out as well. So we received that news yesterday afternoon and got his letter. So that’ll go on the wire today, as E.J. opting out, he has some family things as well, which, you know, we totally respect and understand. Your first question, yeah, you know, Vic every day is a new day. You know, we all here get tested. If you’re in tier one or tier two, we’re in a everyday cycle. So, you know, every morning, Sean and I are getting an update from Nate Breske. He gets the results of if anyone tested positive day before and, you know, we had, you know, a couple back to back days. That whole thing that got put out in the media the other day of, we had two and then we had two more and something like that we were just trying to be smart and make sure we had our arms around it. This is something that we’re learning every day. As you see across the country, and we’re no different and we’re just trying to keep it so that if there is someone in the building or someone that’s been around others on our team players, coaches or staff, that were smart about it. So there may be more days where we say we got a couple guys or two or three guys popped up, they’ve been around, you know, another 15-20 guys, let’s just send everybody home and let another round of tests come in and make sure we’re good. It’s, we’re trying to take the long view, similar to how we’re trying to build this team. We’re not, you know, as much as we want to be out there every day. We’d rather lose one day or two days than lose 10 to 14, you know, half our team or anything like that.
Q: Specifically to your team and how you’re trying to manage things in the building, what is it like dealing with this unprecedented situation?
A: First off, there’s been a lot of people to help us. We had that Infectious Disease Emergency Response Plan, the IDER plan that that we had to get approved by the league and then by the PA. There was a lot of people that put a lot of time and effort in this building to make it as safe as possible. We don’t have a bubble. We don’t have that concept, but we’re trying to make it really hard to catch it in here and or spread it in here. And you know, everyone obviously, I don’t have my mask on for this interview, but I got my mask right here at my side. I was masked until I sat in this chair to do this interview. So that’s, you know, everyone’s responsibility is to police this thing and we have contact tracers on. It’ll turn red if I’m within six feet of someone to let me know you’re too close. And we’re asking each other to hold each other accountable. And that’s me included, if I’m, if I screw up and get too close in talking to Sean about something, somebody should yell at us. And we’ve put people in place, different positions to kind of inspect whether it’s on the practice field or in the weight room. We’re trying to do our best with it. It’s also a huge responsibility. You know, whether it’s a coach or a staff member that’s of age or has a preexisting condition. We do have some people in this building that probably wouldn’t handle the virus as well as some of us others and you know that that’s a huge weight on me, on Sean and Nate Breske and the others that are a part of this team and that’s the biggest thing. We want to win here. There’s no doubt you know how competitive we are. We want to do everything. But the first goal to winning is keeping everyone here safe and healthy and their families because people are going back home. And the last thing I would want to see and I know Sean would echo this when he gets on here, is that someone got it here and took it home and gave it to a wife, a kid, a grandparent, whoever. And so that’s probably the biggest stress I have right now. We lost Jon Feliciano the other day, which was no fun. But to be honest with you, right now our focus is on keeping this place safe and keeping everyone that works here player, coach, staff, whoever, cooking staff, whoever’s here, we want them to stay safe.
Q: Have all the players reported? Also, I’d like to ask you about from a personnel standpoint, like what are the challenges you’re going to face with having enough players available and being able to work players out and having guys ready at a moment’s notice?
A: Yeah, that’s a great question. And that’s probably a little bit of a frustrating part is it’s very hard, the rules are tight. We’re down to 80 in a different way because we have guys on the COVID list. So technically, we are down to 80. Even though we didn’t cut a bunch of people to get there. It’s just you got a few guys on the COVID list and then we have these opt outs which just put us down to that number. So the rule in place is that, normally let’s say we lost Jon Feliciano which we talked about, normally any other year I’d bring in two, three linemen to work out and see who is in the best shape, who fits what we’re looking for, who can pass a physical? Well, the current rules state that I can’t bring anyone in if we don’t have a roster spot. So if we’re at 80, I have to get to 79 just to bring a player in to visit. And, and when I say visit, they can’t come in the facility, they have to have a negative test before we can physical them and that physical is outside our building. And so I can’t bring three linemen in, I could bring one in if I get to 79. So it’s very hard. I understand the reason for the rules that trying to limit travel and the spread of this across our country, but it makes it very hard. The other part of that is, it’s basically five days. You know, I know one of you guys put out about a couple players that were in town, well, those guys are still going through the process of testing. We got to get negative tests multiple days, get them a physical, and then get them signed, and we’re in the middle of that, but even when we get them signed, they’re still going to be days from coming in our building. Just through this protocol. It’s about a five day process from them getting to Buffalo before we can get them into our facility.
Q: Have all 80 reported?
A: Yeah, everyone has reported.
Q: Going back to responsibilities and this really seems to be on the players and everyone individually. We’ve seen major league baseball have spikes and they’re the other professional sport that is not in a bubble. How have you gotten the message across to everyone, but specifically players to have the freedom of not being in a bubble, but understanding what potentially could come?
A: We stress and we had a team meeting the other day and I think Sean did a great job on that meeting, he wore a mask for the whole meeting. And that’s not going to be norm if he’s in his own office, you know, separate but just to get the point across of how to wear the mask and how it’s going to be worn in our building and the expectation. We have to hold each other to a high standard. We talked about playoff caliber around here and things like that. And this is super important because this is talking about people’s health. And the last thing we want to do is someone be careless, and that’s any player, any coach, any staff, it’s on us all to do this. It’s not just to do it for the first week or the first month. We’re going to have to be prudent because again, we can’t get to the season, let’s say we do a great job through camp and we know we get our roster ready. We all know this, this virus can spread easily and so one person two people let their guard down like we’ve seen some of these other sports, it can spread like wildfire and could really damage our season or another team’s season and that’s the last thing we want. So we’re all learning. We’re trying to teach each other and it’s like anything, some guys are probably very sensitive to it and being really guarded and some guys are probably a little bit looser with it. We’re just trying to get everybody on the same page as we get everybody in here. Other than physicals. You know, our veterans, which started yesterday. That was the first day they were in the building so they’re now getting the lay of the land and understanding this place looks different than it did when they left here last January.
Q: Did you guys implement just team wise any extra guidelines for how these guys should operate, especially outside the building?
A: Just ask guys to be smart. Contactless delivery if you’re getting food. Be careful who you’re around. We had meetings with everyone’s family, you know, that could be on these calls. We’ve had three of them and that’s staff and players and coaches, where Sean and I and Nate Breske and then our team doctor showed some slides. Just trying to spread the word that it’s not only on the person in the house that works for the Bills, it’s on everyone in the house to be smart and to communicate. If you realize you’ve been around someone who tested positive for it, communicate it to us even if you’re around them for three minutes. You know, we may hold that staff member or that player out of the building for a couple of days. Just to be smart. Kind of what I said to Vic earlier, we’d rather give up two days with someone than 10 to 14 days.
Q: Since last time we talked to you all the preseason games were cancelled. What’s the biggest hurdle for you in going straight in to the regular season?
A: Yeah, that’s a challenge I’ve never been around either. It’s like every day there’s a new challenge. And obviously, when those games got canceled, Josh, that’s frustrating for me. I know it’s frustrating for some of our players. I talked to a few of them that are looking for that chance to prove their worth to either make this roster or to win a starting spot or special teams spot, whatever it is. So, you know, Sean and I’ve talked about and I think Sean’s got some great ideas. We got to come up with various ways to create competition and some situations in games. High, high impact, high pressure moments the best we can make them here. We’re not in pads yet or anything like that, we’re still you know over two weeks away but as we get closer to that first game we are going to have to try and when we have to cut this roster down we’re going to have to come up with as many ways to just simulate preseason games. Whether it’s seeing how many snaps they played last year in preseason versus some live snaps we have in practice or any types of scrimmage or inner squad scrimmages we may do. We’ve got to plan this out and we got to be safe and healthy and we can’t decimate our roster trying to evaluate it and so there’s a fine line but we do have to get ourselves ready for that week one game against the Jets and be ready for them, but we also have to evaluate to make sure we’re keeping the best 53 players.
Q: In particular the kicking game you draft a guy like Tyler Bass to compete with Stephen Hauschka. There is no replacement for live bullets in a game. Having a kicker get out there and actually kick with the game on the line. How does that impact a rookie like Tyler?
A: Yeah, that’s where you got to get creative. And that same motto that we had in the spring is translating here, which is find a way. We got to find a way and use different scenarios. You know, whether it’s a kicker makes this long kick, we cut off 20 minutes of meetings or we go no pads tomorrow, you know, whatever it is, and I think, Sean will do a great job. He’s got some good ideas, we bounce some things off, but that’s what we have to do to put these guys. Whether it’s a quarterback or receiver, kicker, as you mentioned, whatever position it is, we got to do our best we got to come up with ways and strategies we can do to put these guys in as high pressure situations we can. Obviously we don’t have the game setting to do that.
Q: I’m curious, you know, some of you’ve already brought up how different things are all the challenges the stress of whether your players and their families are healthy. I’m curious how everything going on has adjusted your expectations for this season, whether it’s for your team as a whole, Josh [Allen], your offense. Just how you’ve been dealing with all that and kind of contextualizing this season in your in your mind.
A: Yeah, I mean, our expectations are always high and our expectations are high as we learn how to handle this virus and how to operate, and this is going to be a different camp a camp like no other. I mean I’m usually in the dorm room right now, but instead having camp at home and trying to adjust to that. But I think at the end of the day we have to still hold ourselves to a high standard, and Sean and I aren’t going to sit here and say, ‘oh, it was the COVID year. We didn’t make the playoffs, so be it.’ Like nothing’s changed here. We expect playoff caliber practices once we once we get to that point, and it’s our job to get this roster ready to go when we open up here against the Jets whatever it is five weeks or so. So no, I mean I hear you. I respect the question, Matt, but nothing’s changing there, and that’s why the pressure is on us all to stay healthy and to do things right. So that we can have the best 53 guys out there and not have 10 guys on the COVID list come mid-September. And it won’t be easy, but we got to be prudent and again, if we do that, we’ll find a way to be ready to roll when the season gets rolling.
Q: When you see what happened, like baseball in particular and other sports, do you? Can you even allow it to enter your brain of like worrying about whether you guys are going to get 16 games in or anything like that?
A: No, I mean, I think right now it’s day by day, it really is. Let’s just worry about doing the best we can today. I mean, honestly, I know – usually you can kind of see by now you can see that first preseason game. You can see when you’re cutting your roster down. You can see what things are going start to look like for that first game, but that first game even though it is whatever, five weeks off, seems like six months away right now just because it’s like I said every day kind of wake up and check with Nate Breske and see, is anybody positive? What does it look like with the contact tracing? Do we need to have someone else sit out today just to make sure they’re safe? So those are the daily things we’re doing, and then once we figure out who we’re going to have in the building that day, how are we going to make the most of it in the weight room, on the field, meeting rooms, etc? So no, I mean, where our standard is right where it’s always been here, and we expect to be ready to roll when they when they kick it off.
Q: Just with respect to practice squad rules. I know they’re expanded to 16, and I’ve seen that there are protections that you can enact for four of those players so they can’t be poached off your roster by another club. Can you just kind of lay out for us, Brandon, whether or not that is a group of four that can change week to week, or if it’s said. I’m assuming because of the potential of COVID changing your roster dramatically you can kind of pick a different four week to week or is it set?
A:Yeah, you can change it. Those four protective players are done on Tuesdays at four o’clock each week. So it’ll be kind of free access to poach prior to Tuesday at four after games are played. Your entire 16 would be able to be poached. And then on Tuesdays at four, we’ll be able to designate four guys that we have for the week, and that can change. Each week is a new four list and it could be the same, but you could theoretically protect two guys, the same two guys, all year if you want to. It’s just a weekly designation we’ll send in of these four guys are protected this week.
Q: But each week there’s going to be that 48-hour window between Monday and Tuesday where anybody’s free to get claimed?
A: Yep, but they would have to – here’s the thing that makes it tricky doing that. If we went to go get someone off a practice squad, as the rules are right now obviously things can change, but that’s going to be a five day entry to get them in our building. So, you claim a guy on Monday, he’s mostly going to be virtually meeting with you until the end of the week. So he may not have a live practice with your team that week. Just as it stands now, just to get them in the building. It’s like a re-entry whether it’s a free agent, whatever. It’s that test day-one, test day-two, off day-three, test day-four. So all of those are going to have to be negative tests before they can enter our facility.
Q: Even if that player has been negative in for another club?
A: Yeah, it makes it really tough.
Q: I’m just what is it been like from the mental side of things for you? I mean, just you know, you talk about getting up every day and not knowing who you’re going to have the building, what players are gonna be available, checking the tests and seeing who could possibly test positive. I mean, just like mentally how much is that taking a toll on you just not knowing every day getting up who you’re going to have available that day?
A: Yeah, it’s weird some days I wake up wide awake and some days you’re fatigued from the day before, but it is what it is. You know, I am a I’m a positive person. And I don’t let it really try and weigh me down. I’m really just trying to take it day-by-day. I’m trying to learn every day honestly, what we can do better and talking to our medical staff and talking to the coaches and hopefully in two weeks from now we’re doing even better than we’re doing today, because starting tomorrow we are going to have up to 80 players in our facility. So it’s going to be more people around more people that could enter those close contact areas of within six feet, things like that. So we’re going to have to step our game up even more starting tomorrow when everyone’s in here, but it is what it is. I just kind of taking it day by day and don’t let it get me down, and I think Sean’s doing a great job as well.
Q: And when it comes to talking about the competition, and not having preseason games and wanting to keep the best 53 guys. How do you balance keeping the best 53 guys, but then also having to be like, well, we need to make sure we have you know, depth that certain positions and if guys, you know, do test positive, I mean, just how challenging is it when you’re having to balance so many different things when it comes to deciding who you’re gonna keep?
A: Yeah, I mean, honestly we’ve been talking about before when they changed the rule, where we had to go from 90 to 80, you know how we were gonna get to 80? And, man, we’re not gonna be able to see this guy in a helmet whether it was an undrafted rookie or whatever. And I know we released a couple players, but you know we were trying to figure all that out and we’re not even at 80. I mean, we’re barely at 80 right now, because we got some guys on the COVID list. We got these guys opting out and that’s the thing, some players can still opt out. So trying to get a balance of who could still choose to take that path, and again to replace them. It’s five days to get a guy in here, so those will be definitely more conversations when we get down to the 53, who’s currently got COVID? Who is injured? How long is their injury? It seems so far away to that point, as I said earlier, because we’re just trying to take this hour by hour day by day, but it definitely – a lot will go into that more than we’ve ever had to think of before, because again even when the when the waiver wire comes out, we’re playing Week One the Jets. Okay, maybe a guy we would have claimed before do we want to claim him knowing by the time we get him here, if we need him that week, we’re probably not even going to have a practice with him before he would step on the field. So, a lot of things that we’ll have to weigh before we make a decision to bring someone from the outside once the season is rolling.
Q: You mentioned at the start, you know what a blow was losing Jon Feliciano. Can you talk about what that’s like? I know Sean has talked about his leadership and what he’s brought into the room, especially during the virtual offseason. And the second part of the question is now with him out of the mix, a guy who started 16 games last year, who do you kind of see in the mix for that competition at the right guard spot?
A: Yeah Jon, he brings an edge, he brings an energy, you see his passion on the field. We even have to get on to Jon sometimes because it is I think it’s spilled over a couple times where you got to a 15-yard flag, but you live with those with a guy like Jon. And I think they play different positions, but I think him, and Josh Allen are wired the same. They’re fired up, they play every play like it’s their last. So, replacing that energy that he brings in that leadership and that he fits what we look at out of our o-lineman. Smart, tough and dependable guys and so that’s not easy. That’s a blow. We feel bad for Jon. I feel bad for him, and because he worked so hard coming off the shoulder. I mean, he was he was ahead of schedule the whole offseason, even though he wasn’t able to be in here the whole time and just really proud of his effort and just a freak deal that happened, but we do have some other guys. We tried to build as much depth as we could. Daryl Williams, Evan Boehm, Ike Boettger, Spencer Long. You know those guys Cody Ford could slide in there and put Ty Nsekhe at tackle. Ty has even played guard, so there’s a lot of combinations we can do a long way to go before it’s settled of how that would play out, right guard and right tackle. I think Cody will be in the mix of one of those, but just have to see where it fits best. Are we better with someone else at right tackle and sliding Cody in, or are we better leaving Cody right and someone else winning that job?
Q: I know you touched on this a little bit before, but I guess where is the difficulty and how much control does a team have over what players can do outside of the facility. Like if it’s tricky, or if they’re restricted from coming in the facility. What is stopping them from gathering outside or training and practicing together outside of it?
A: Yeah, there’s nothing that’s stopping them. We can’t have a, you know, police officer or anything outside each person’s house. You know, as much as we’d love to do that, not only with our players, but staff, and all of us. It gets hard to you know nobody wants to sit in an apartment or a hotel room all the time, but this is the year that we’ve got to do whatever it takes. And we have got to find a way to keep ourselves healthy and, and it is its on us all. It’s on us each to hold each other accountable and make sure we’re not doing those things. And I think our veteran leaders – peer pressure, peer leadership is probably the best and I know some of those guys spoke up on a call the other day, a zoom call, and they did a great job of stressing to everyone on the call what we have to do this season, and we can’t let our guard down. So, I think we have great leadership and I know Sean will lean on those guys to help hold each other accountable.
Q: Playing off Marcel asked a little bit there, how is it different in terms of how everyone’s pitching in in the building, because you’re limited to 100 tier one - tier two employees for a building that was 150-160 people were in there normally. How can we be how has it been different? How will it be different with everybody kind of having to pitch in and do a little bit more in the next few weeks?
A: Yeah, it is weird. You know, normally at training camp, you have all these interns from trainer interns, equipment staff, video, football operations, coaching interns and we had to scale all that back just because you’re only allowed a sheer number of things and some people are having to do double duty. And we have some a group of people, these protocol coordinators that they’re having to figure out every day who’s going to be in that tier one who’s going to be in tier two. We can have 40 in tier two in the building, but we actually have close to 60 on the list. And so we’ve cleared a lot of our building out from the – some of the business people are in different areas, or they’re working remote, just to try and keep our building as clean and safe as possible. And appreciate everyone pitching in this organization that even though I’m sure they want to be here and work in their office, but with these rules we’ve had to take over some areas to create meeting rooms to try and make bigger spaces so our guys can spread out and physically distance themselves. So you know it is different. Everybody’s having to probably pitch in and make sure we’re using resources to the best of our ability, and it may be that somebody’s got to be another film guy that doesn’t normally do that or somebody’s got to help – we got extra people helping in the weight room when these guys are they’re wiping stuff down as these guys use it just to keep everything as clean as possible. But we got good people, good team effort and I know everyone is working the right direction.
Q: Does that include you? You have some extra chores at all? You have to clean anything?
A: They don’t want me doing anything. But no, it’s a group effort. We will all pitch in and like I said, we’re going to do whatever it takes to keep everyone safe.
Q: What can you say about where it stands in terms of a salary cap and trying to extend guys who are in their last year of their contract? In a normal year, you would be working on that or having dialog on that what can you say? You know without specifically speaking to Matt [Milano] or Dion [Dawkins], but those are the two prime guys anyway. And as far as the 175 floor for the 2021 cap, do you think agents are going to want to wait, because that floor there’s so much uncertainty that you have no control over. But new money comes in. If there’s new deals, do you think that there’s going to be an expectation that the floor is going to be higher than 175?
A: Yeah, I think everyone should operate – I mean we’re going to operate that it will be 175. There’s so many unknowns for the season. Right now, are there going to be fans and stands and things that create revenue? So are there any new deals coming? There’s so many things that we don’t have the answers to. So I’m glad the union and the league worked out what the floor is, so we can at least plan for that. Obviously, that throws a wrench in every team’s planning, because you know it’s 198 this year and those things have been jumping 10-12 million every year. So, prior to this COVID in our planning, we were planning that thing being close to 210 or so and obviously adjust what we can and can’t do. But you know, just want to retain our guys and we’re going to do our best to retain as many as possible, but we do have to keep an eye on what that you know what that salary floor currently stands and until they tell us different you know, that’s what we have to operate with.
Head Coach Sean McDermott
Sunday, August 2, 2020
Q: Brandon [Beane] just kind of alluded to this but just wanted to hear your perspective as the coach. What has been the biggest challenge with not having the players on the field to this point?
A: Yeah, with respect to the players…..One part of me, you get a little bit frustrated because you want to make progress and you want to move the team forward, especially since we haven’t been together for some time. That said, I always try and remind myself in the next minute, “hey, I understand this is being done for a reason” and I support that. We’ve got to be smart. I know you guys have many more questions about what we’re doing and not doing with the COVID situation. So it’s important that we onboard these players and staff in the right way, in a methodical approach here.
Q: Does that make the time once you actually get on the field that much more precious or do you have to realize that every team is dealing with the same obstacles right now, and you maybe can’t try and get too much into one thing because that might overload somebody?
A: No, you’re right. As coaches, it really challenges us to be sharp and on top of our game. Reps are always important. But how we plan practice...We spend a lot of time on that. Who gets the reps, how many reps, are we challenging the guys enough, are we putting them into…because of no preseason games, are we putting them into situations that they would have seen through preseason games? So I think from a planning standpoint, not just with the COVID end of the planning but also now to your question on the field, there’s a lot of planning and we got to be razor sharp on that end.
Q: You’re going to coach the hell out of these guys and every staff in the league will do the same thing, but do fans just maybe have to be prepared, that when this season gets going, and maybe those first few games for sure, we’re not going to see the same type of NFL football that maybe we’re used to seeing after you’ve had a summer of preseason games? Do people need to just lower their expectations about the quality of what we might see at least early on?
A: Yeah, you know, your question is understandable. That said, I’m not lowering my standards and I don’t expect anyone in this building to be lowering their standards. What I’ve seen so far honestly, is an unbelievable display of a standard in our building with the effort that’s been put in by our ops staff, from leadership on down, we’ve done a great job. They’ve done a great job getting our building ready and I’ve been very impressed with the standard that I’ve seen to this point and I expect us to carry that through. I’m watching other leagues, to your question, I’m watching other leagues out there play and you wonder how much of some of the rust or errors is because of the maybe lack of time together. That said, I think, again we maintain a high level of expectations, and a standard that we live by here in the building.
Q: If I could follow one thing for you personally, is this may be the greatest challenge you’ve ever faced as a coach? I’m sure you’ve had some tough situations but this one in particular, does this take the cake maybe?
Q: Yeah, but I’m sure for a lot of us, it does. This is a unique time in our world. It’s a leadership issue, you know, to me it’s not that we can solve it. But well, what can we do to solve what we can solve? And so that’s a big part of my job and Brandon’s job and the leadership in our building here, is to solve the riddle every day, and we’re doing the best we can. And listen, I don’t think anyone’s going to be clean through all of this. With the cases and it’s going to continue to be around as we’re being told by medical people and we’ve just got to find a way to control the controllables and continue to move our team and our organization forward and hopefully to provide hope to our community and our world here.
Q: Is there any sense that you could tell your players don’t be the Marlins? Because the one advantage football has schedule wise is it can learn from some of these other sports and the Marlins do seem to have provided a pretty stark example. The other would be, I think [Stefon] Diggs is in the building. Is there a reaction that the big playmaker has arrived and have you talked to him yet?
A: I’ll take that part of the question first. Yeah, it’s good to see Stefon. We saw him yesterday a little bit with the physical. I didn’t get much time to spend with him, but it is good to see him, good to meet him in person, and for him to meet his teammates in person and just be around each other. Not just Stefon, but our entire veteran class group, if you will. And it’s going to be a team effort in terms of how we play and Stefon, we expect him to come in and integrate into what we do and how we do things and we’ll make him a big part of what we’re doing here. So, on the other side of it, the Marlins situation, it’s unfortunate. I think, listen, the reality of our situation is that that could be another team. There could be another situation like that and we are trying to learn from that situation and I think we’d be wrong if we didn’t try and learn from that situation. So I don’t place blame on them or have any less respect for them and their process, because this is new for all of us, whether it’s a sports team in this case, or we’re just trying to live our lives. This is new and sometimes what I’ve come across is people aren’t sure maybe where they picked it up, and the thing again, not to sound redundant but we have to control our controllables and be disciplined in our approach. I think even with that we’re going to pick up some positives and those will be unfortunate but we want to make sure we support our players and the staff that go through those situations. So, you know, I’m trying to stay healthy too. People think that just because you’re a coach or the head coach, as we’ve seen it doesn’t discriminate and just because I know someone, doesn’t mean that they can’t give it to me or I can’t give it to them. It’s again unique times.
Q: How efficient has testing been? And taking the head coach title off, just looking at this roster, what position battle is most intriguing in your eyes?
A: Yeah, I mean just the position battles, I think we have many and that’s a credit to Brandon by creating competition. I think that depth is going to be challenged though as we’re already seeing across the league, us no different. We have some guys with conditions that they’ve come in with, whether it be injury or COVID situation so Brandon has had to, at an early point already in camp, start to move a little bit on some things here. So that’s going to be an ongoing challenge and I think it’s to be expected throughout the season. So with the first part of your question, I’ve been very impressed with what the NFL has put into place. Very appreciative as well. I think they’re doing all they can. I think there’s obviously been a lot of forethought put into this by Dr. Sills, the medical experts on both sides with the union as well. I really appreciate the leadership in this and the way they’ve taken initiative. So very fortunate that we can get the results back in a timely manner that we’ve been able to, to this point and, again, just thinking about, you know, we sometimes work in a little bit of a bubble, but also very cognizant of and aware of and sensitive to the situation that’s out there for other people and their situations, whether they’re going through it or getting tests and so this is all of us in this together.
Q: Can you get into some of the specifics as to the decision making process in sending the rookies home last week. And secondly, I know it’s been negotiated with the PA but the extended conditioning time, the threat of certain types of injuries coming off a condensed or shortened or COVID affected offseason, if you will, how concerned you are about that and maybe how additional you’d be trying to manage that situation?
A: There’s no playbook for this out there, right? I can’t stress that enough. When we did send the rookies home the other day, I received multiple calls, as did Brandon, from people around the league, trying to do their research, trying to figure out why we were doing it, and what adjustments we were making. Really for us, what I can share is just the fact that we want to be smart, we want to be responsible. As I try and communicate to our players and our staff, safety is always number one. Not only off the field but on the field that we’re teaching the right techniques to our players and coaching the right techniques and so that’s not just unique to this season. And so with that in mind, we wanted to err on the side of caution and be proactive and preventative in our approach and I think we did a good job of that and I also think it sent a message to our players and our staff that this is real, and we don’t want something like that come up during the season, where we have to miss time together. But at the same time, we have to learn through this. We’re living through it and so I also think how we adjust is important. I wanted to do a good job and we made sure that that was known and what we expect in terms of where guys go will leave here, and that we’ve got to be all responsible or accountable to one another, when we leave this this bubble that we have inside of our building here.
Q: How concerned are you about injuries given the extended ramp up period?
A: Yeah, no, it’s real. That’s a good point and good question, that is a challenge but we’re lucky and fortunate that we have a group effort on that every year. So we’ve got a good sports science department here that I count on and rely on and a strength coach and his staff and as well as our medical staff. So we’re all hands on deck every year, including this year, so I think in a somewhat different way this year the NFL has put those guidelines into place early on because of the situation and circumstances from the spring. I think it’s responsible on their part. They’re not tying our hands behind our back. Everyone’s in the same position and I’m confident that we’ll be ready to go.
Q: You mentioned the accountability. But when they leave the building, it’s on the guys, right? I mean they have to be accountable, and I was trying to think of a phrase, maybe even peer pressure in a positive sense where they’re accountable to each other because it’s a long stretch. This could be months. Is the leadership important outside the room now too?
A: Yeah, it’s important. You know, we’ve always talked about it, about winning off the field, helps you win on the field, no different this year. Obviously the challenges off the field are even greater this year because of the situation we’re in with the COVID situation. Yeah, the one unique thing, as you mentioned, right now for us is that we’re in a situation right now where it’s….we’re not only playing for a month or only playing for half of the season. And so right now, it could be a long stretch. Because of that, it’s really going to test our endurance, it’s really going to test our discipline and consistency. And as you mentioned, the accountability issue. I’ve got to be realistic with it too. We’re all human and so sometimes even I need a break, but I’ve got to take my break in the right way. And so I think you’re seeing some of those things that we’re all learning from pop up around in other leagues, where guys have taken a break and it’s come back to haunt them. So, it’s a lifestyle adjustment right for all of us and we have to continue to distance, we have to continue to mask up and do a good job of it and continue to obviously wash our hands and all the things that the medical people are talking about. Even with that there may be things that still get through the cracks and that’s the part of the big picture perspective that I have to keep in mind being realistic about what we’re doing here.
Q: Who do you expect to fill the gaps at defensive tackle and guard left by Star [Lotulelei] opting our and Jon Feliciano’s injury?
A: Well I think at the defensive tackle and really right guard position, we have options right now. It’s rare that even before you step on the field you lose one or two players and that’s unfortunate. We certainly respect Star’s decision and support him and his family through this, and then it’s unfortunate with Jon’s situation. But that said, this is why you bring players in and you try and build with depth, because things like this do happen. It’s really honestly the next man up. The next man up, it’s an opportunity for them. I don’t want to get into names because there’s a lot of guys that we have confidence in around those players in those positions between the ones that have been here and new ones we brought in, so I think it’ll be a good opportunity for these other players to show us what they’ve got and to make their mark as well.
Q: To follow on the question there about Star, you’ve known him for a long time. Could you just tell us a little bit about how that conversation with him went and I would imagine that for him to reach that decision probably wasn’t easy. And for you as well to hear that given your relationship with him, what was that like and how tough is that to go through obviously respecting his opinion?
A: Yeah, it’s not easy and I know it wasn’t easy for Star either. And those are decisions that just don’t happen very quickly. They take you a while to get to and I appreciate that. He had talked with his family about it for some time and I also appreciate the communication, and so I’ll keep the content of the communication between Star, myself and Brandon at this point private with respect to Star’s privacy. We certainly understand where he’s coming from. Listen, I think at the end of the day, I’ve had to as a man and a husband and a father conversations with my family. This is what’s going on in our world. What is our decision as a family? Are you okay with dad and in this case, the husband leaving to go to work, knowing that I can’t guarantee that I’m not going to get the virus. And so we had to have similar conversations and obviously I decided to come into work. So it doesn’t make me any different than Star. He obviously decided not to and we support that, but I think these are all responsible decisions and conversations that we need to be having. I can tell you this, it’s really been to me a great example of again our standard when I came into this building and I was in over the summer, in the spring. It wasn’t a normal summer, I can tell you that in terms of vacation-wise, but I’ve been around it. But to see it now executed at such a high level. I think the care that all the staff, not just the coaches, I’m talking about the operations staff, the equipment staff, the trainers, the cafeteria staff and what they’re doing and it’s really got to be all hands on deck. You just watch how meticulous everyone is being in terms of trying to keep everyone healthy, right? And I’m not just talking about keeping players healthy, I’m talking about keeping staff healthy, everyone I just mentioned, I feel like I have a responsibility to them to try and keep them healthy as well. And so, we talked about it. Safety being number one. Now we have to live it and walk the walk. And, again, that doesn’t mean we’re going to be 100% on it. I think with what’s going on in our world that’d be foolish to have that mindset right now, but I also believe that we’re going to do our darndest to do a great job with it.
Q: What is the biggest challenge this year with no preseason games and that opportunity to evaluate your team?
A: Yeah, I was thinking let me have you guys come out and just suit up for a day and we’ll just see if we can get like an inner-squad (scrimmage). Maybe the Bills versus the media type of approach to a game, if you guys are up for. (Josh Reed) you can coach the other side, I’ll coach the Bills. You coach the other side and then I’ll just question everything, every call you make (laughs). No, no, listen no preseason games, you know when I first heard that…And I think just understanding ‘why’ is important and trying to educate myself and listening on what the reasons were. As a coach, again, you have 32 head coaches. Like 31 other head coaches, like myself, that there’s like, ‘Oh, why are we doing that?’ Or whatever, but the more that I listened to the ‘why’ I understand. Certainly I would like to have preseason games, but it’s been done before. Maybe not always in the NFL, but colleges do it or something similar every year. So I’ve reached out to a couple college coaches, my college coach that I played for and he certainly had a lot of success, so we’ve got a lot of smart people in this in this building also that have come from a lot of different backgrounds that can help. Again I’m confident that we will adjust. I’m confident that our players will adjust and we’ll have a good plan in place here to get our team ready to go.
Q: Is there a chance you do a little more scrimmaging in practice?
A: Yeah, I mean we’ve got to be, John Wooden always talked about planning two hours to prepare practice. I think that the longer I’ve been in this position, I think that he was ahead of his time because that’s real and the planning part of this, it really comes in two pieces. It’s the COVID planning piece, that’s every day. And then it’s the it’s the time on the grass that we’ve got to have a really good plan and be adjustable. So yeah, I’ve got to make sure that I find all the data I can to expose our players to game situations, live situations, to get them ready to go. Our players have been great man, they’ve adjusted and they have not blinked honestly and certainly look they’re human too. That’s sometimes what people overlook from time to time, these guys are human, they have families as we’ve already discussed. So they’re trying to balance staying healthy and also being the best version of themselves, so it’s a team effort.
Q: Given the challenges of brining in new players with the COVID protocols, is it even feasible to bring in new players the week of a game?
A: That’s the situation we’re in. Take the head coach hat off for a second there, I think that’s the real part of this and that’s also the challenge and look, as I said before, you have to be a solver of problems every day as a coach and to put the cap back on—that’s really what a lot of this job is from a leadership standpoint is to solve problems, and I can tell you, I’ve had my hands full as has Brandon. As have our leadership, Terry and Kim have done a great job of solving problems to get us ready to go and to allow us to come into building like this. Now we have a great building that sets up. If any other building sets up for this, it’s ours. Just in terms of the space we have, the land we have. So we feel grateful for that and it’s the reality of the situation is there’s going to be some not ideal sets of situations and circumstances. We can’t blink. Our coaches, I thought they were the first wave of the people in with some of our scouts. And I thought that they did a great job. Brandon’s done a great job. I can tell you from very early in the morning the communication starts rolling through very late in the evening, the communication continues just to make sure that from one day to the next that we’re adjusting and we’re communicating. And we’re giving ourselves a chance to get ready to go because listen, when we play, we kick it off against the Jets and I’m sure they’re thinking the same thing. No one’s going to care what we’ve gone through to this point. And so we respect that and we’ve got to be ready to go. That’s the professional side of this sport and this game.
Q: Can you just comment on Jon Feliciano’s status?
A: Yeah, I think Brandon hit on some of that, I’ll just leave it at that. We’ll just take it one day at a time right now and we’ve got to get through a whole stack of COVID things. We have got to talk about them and then I can talk to Brandon about Jon and his situation, but honestly for now we’ll just leave it at that and we’ll update you guys as we go here.
Q: Can you give us an idea of how your building is laid out to adhere to all of the protocols?
A: Yeah, I don’t like to use the word different, I think that’s a negative type of mindset. I think we’ve adjusted it and I’ll give Kim (Pegula) a lot of credit. Whatever we needed to do to make this a healthy environment or the healthiest we can. And that’s a big piece of again their commitment and their leadership, Terry and Kim’s. And so we are fortunate. I don’t know how many teams have these options, but we have an outside option with meetings outside where we can get inside of tents where the air is blowing. We’re certainly spread out. And then if weather doesn’t permit that, then we can move to some rooms that we have that are bigger size meeting rooms where we can get six feet apart. Certainly with masks on still and try to stay as healthy as possible. If that then doesn’t work, then we can kick the guys to virtual. And so having those options, tell you as a head coach man, this just makes life a whole lot easier. And I think the players when they walked in here were able to then see, ‘Hey, listen, this organization cares about my health and my safety.’ It’s one thing to say it, but for the players to walk in and see the amount of work that’s been put in to adjusting. I think it just speaks volumes about leadership and ownership and the culture that we have here, I really do. And that’s because the people that we have, their commitment and their dedication to being the best.
Q: How are you making sure guys do the right things away from the facility?
A: Yeah, as we sit here right now I wish I could say that we’re going to be 100%. Being realistic here, I don’t know if that’s being realistic, but we’re going to do the best that we can. And listen, we really haven’t, the cool part of this to an extent is we really haven’t had to change our messaging, we as you know, we talk a lot about accountability. We talked about respect for one another, we talk about love for one another, positive energy. Every decision that I make as a coach, every decision that every teammate of mine, and every person in this building which we’re all teammates, make has got to be with so much love, appreciation and respect for everyone else’s health and safety. We’re not going to let each other down. And that to me is the sign of a real team, that every decision I make—I have so much love for you and your family that every decision I make on the field, off the field that I’m not going to let you or your family down. That’s, I mean to me, we talk about that a lot. And that’s also true in this case, when I go home. When I leave here, I’m trying to do the same. And so I’ve got to hold myself accountable and I’ve got a model that. Even with that doesn’t mean that I may not catch it or someone else may not catch it. But we’ve got to hold each other (accountable) and it’s a leadership issue as I said before. As I said to the players, you can’t be afraid to speak up, and then the people that get held accountable, there can’t be tension about it. Hey if, if I’m with (VP of Communications) Derek (Boyko) and he’s not masked up, I have to say, ‘Derek back up or mask up.’ That’s the reality of our situation and it’s no different outside of our building. That’s honestly what I’ve experienced in public is the peer pressure part of feeling like I’m being rude to someone to tell them, ‘Hey, back up.’ And I know there’s differing opinions on that out there, but I just think we all, as a world and as a society in this case, have to get used to saying and look it’s not I’m not trying to hurt your feelings. I’m just trying to keep myself, my family (safe) and improve our situation in our country right now.
Q: When you look at Major League Baseball, how do you have to handle the thoughts about the entire season potentially not happening?
A: Yeah that’s the mental toughness part of it. You’ve got to be able to compartmentalize. My wife always says that she thinks I do a good job of being able to compartmentalize more than most people. I think that’s true in this case. Look as a coach I’ve just been wired to focus on what I can focus in control, and then I’m getting myself ready to go on our team ready to go and, and we’ll let the people that make those decisions handle those decisions.