How NFL players, draft prospects train in coronavirus pandemic

New England Patriots receiver N’Keal Harry has kept in touch with 2019 draft classmate, teammate and Tom Brady’s potential replacement, Jarrett Stidham, about linking up soon to play catch. It’s something they might have done anyway, but with the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic, they’re setting logistics now, since they’re figuring they won’t be together in Foxborough any time soon.

Offseason programs, which were scheduled to begin in April, have been postponed indefinitely. League and team facilities are closed. Gyms nationwide are closed. It’s why many players, like Harry and Stidham, are setting up alternative plans.

"I talked to Stidham the other day to make sure we read the (passing game) script," Harry said. "If this goes on for a long time and there is no offseason training or OTAs, we’re going to have to meet up and get to work."

At personal training facilities in Florida, Atlanta, California and elsewhere, NFL players are getting ready for football’s pre-preseason. It’s what veteran players and draft prospects normally would do this time of year.

However, because of the COVID-19 outbreak, sessions are private, in smaller groups, some one-on-one. Trainers have extended their hours to keep groupings at a minimum. Players and trainers are maintaining distance between each other — guys might be lifting without spotters, for example. Proper hygiene and cleansing of equipment are paramount.

Beyond workouts, players are binge-watching shows at home or challenging peers on video games remotely, instead of hanging out together.

"My wife and I just finished watching all 23 Marvel movies chronologically," Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks said.

Many top-line prospects are using personal trainers — that is not uncommon in any year — which tend to be paid for by their agencies. However, others have been forced to change plans on the fly. Central Florida wide receiver Gabriel Davis said he would have been working out with his familiar strength coaches at UCF, but those facilities are closed. So Davis is in training at Athletic Gaines in Calabasas, California, with longtime fitness expert Travelle Gaines and his staff.

"It’s made a lot of things different," Davis said, of the pandemic’s impact. "I don’t get any private meetings with teams in person, where I believe you can really learn more and show more. I won’t have a pro day. This is a big wrinkle for everybody, not just us."

Currently, there are roughly 10 players working with Gaines. He said that number should escalate in early April. Slotting no more than two players at a time for workouts will continue, in order to comply with recommendations from health experts amid the virus. Gaines and his staff have been working — and will continue to work — from roughly 7 a.m. until the last client is finished.

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Longtime trainer Chip Smith, based just outside of Atlanta, said he’s working with smaller groups of players, as well — mostly college prospects. He said that he’s recording some drills and sessions to send to teams.

Utah running back Zack Moss is one of the top incoming rookies at his position and is training outside of Los Angeles with Gaines. He ran a 4.65 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, which was disappointing for him after recording times in the 4.5 range prior to the trip to Indianapolis. Since his pro day was canceled, Moss felt the need to post a video of him running the 40 with someone holding a stopwatch, clocking him around 4.5 seconds. He said he wished interested teams could see him work out in person, but that’s not allowed. Like other draft prospects, he’s had videoconferences with teams. Buffalo, Arizona, Detroit and Washington are teams Moss said he’s spoken with. There were personal questions, work on the whiteboard and film breakdowns — things that normally would take place in person. It’s different, Moss said, but it’s what everyone is having to do.

"This is not how I imagined things to go, but who did?" Moss said. "I don’t know if things will be pushed back or they’ll still be on time. I’m just going to be grateful and blessed no matter when training camp starts. What I can control is my fitness, to take care of what I need to take care of, so I’m ready on Day 1, whenever that is."

In a conference call on Tuesday, league officials said the NFL is currently planning to start the regular season on time in September. But with offseason programs on hiatus, Gaines said that he has changed the training regimen for each of his clients. There isn’t much lifting of heavy weights and the running drills that are usually in full swing at this point have been minimalized.

"Normally right now, we’d be a week or two away from the start of OTAs," Gaines said. "We would have guys running and doing stuff in preparation for being on the field. We don’t want to burn them out now and have them less than fully functional if things don’t start for months."

So those training with Gaines, like the Rams’ Cooks, are doing drills to enhance core strength, balance, stability and other drills that simulate functional movements used in practice and games. Cooks, by the way, has Gaines’ staffers train him mostly at his house, to maintain as much social distancing as possible.

"I’ve always been like that in the offseason, working with myself, one or two other guys," Cooks said. "The fact that we’re coming to my house is perfect. My wife and I are diligently cleaning before and after. I’m here wiping things down constantly. You can’t be too careful."

Although offseason workouts have been postponed, the 2020 NFL Draft will proceed as originally scheduled, April 23-25. Rookies usually report to their teams and begin on-field workouts and off-field life skills training within days of being drafted or signed as undrafted free agents. Veteran players usually join them and their teams at some point, although most offseason workouts are voluntary and some players train on their own.

Will the majority of players remain as diligent with their conditioning if they’re not under the supervision of their teams’ strength coaches? Another question in this offseason loaded with them.

"For those who are disciplined, it won’t be an issue," Cooks said. "The type of guys we have at the Rams are all hungry and motivated, so it won’t be an issue. I’m not worried about that. For everyone, it’s about finding a way, however each guy wants to or has to do it, to be ready when the bell to start work is rung."

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @Wyche89.

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