Working for the Detroit Lions on opposite sides of the country, Cory Undlin and Darrell Bevell were doubters. They knew they had no choice -- no one in the NFL did -- and they knew they would have to make the best of what they could do virtually through Zoom and other platforms instead of connecting with their players in person.
Now, as the Lions' offseason program comes to an end, the team's defensive and offensive coordinators found positives in working with players remotely.
“If you would have asked me how this was going to go in March, end of draft, I would have been pretty skeptical,” Undlin said. “But now, being done with it [Wednesday] morning, it’s been the opposite. It’s been an incredible experience.
“Obviously we don’t want to be on a Zoom call, I didn’t want my first defensive introduction ... to myself, and then the philosophy of the defense and what we’re trying to do here, being on a Zoom call. But now that we’re done, it’s been a very, very positive experience.”
It took a session or two to figure out the logistics of teaching using a white board on Zoom, but the distanced learning led to productivity and to open conversations about football -- and other topics.
Bevell thought, when he started, that the environment might become stale. Bland. Tough to communicate in. Instead, he found it “clear” and “clean” and felt the Lions made progress virtually that he hopes will lead to real-life results.
Which is where this all gets tricky.
Yes, skepticism was defeated in the offseason portion of the NFL calendar. But what happens when the team returns to Allen Park for training camp and the regular season? Coronavirus cases have been plummeting in Michigan due to social distancing, the wearing of masks and other measures. But in an NFL environment, many of the procedures that keep people safe will be more challenging to carry out.
Neither Undlin nor Bevell expressed concern about returning to work, saying they believe the Lions and the NFL will have the best possible protocols in place.
Running back Bo Scarbrough told ESPN last week that he’ll “have my mask and my gloves, I’ll tell you that. Like, I ain’t trying to get no coronavirus, man. I can’t get no coronavirus. That scares the hell out of me. I don’t know, man. But I can tell you this: When I go, I’m going to have my mask and I’m going to have my gloves.”
Scarbrough said he doesn't know how the protocols will work, though -- something continually being figured out by the NFL.
And there’s also the obvious, problematic question, at least when it comes to the health, safety and performance of the players: What happens if a position group -- or an entire side of the ball -- contracts COVID-19 or needs to be quarantined because of contact tracing?
No one has the answers to these questions yet.
“It’s just crazy times. It’s so unknown,” Bevell said. “I saw the comments by, I don’t know, it might have been Bruce Arians, about keeping a quarterback somewhere in quarantine in case you need him and it’s almost like, it’s a great idea. Like, what do you do?
“I don’t think there is any way to know how it would hit your team, who it would hit. I mean, there’s not an unlimited roster. There’s not unlimited places where you can stow people. So you’re going to have the guys that you have and if guys start getting sick or whatever, I don’t even know how to answer it. Because what are you going to do if you lose that many guys? I don’t know if I have an answer. I don’t know if the league has an answer.”
Bevell mentioned the Lions went through three starting quarterbacks last season so they have some experience with it, but that came due to injury -- which will be an issue on top of any coronavirus problems that pop up.
So what would the NFL do? What would the Lions do? That remains to be decided, as things continue into the summer and then training camp.
“Those are all great questions,” Bevell said. “And I just don’t think we know right now.”