NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans will have to get a lot out of their limited number of Training Camp practices to make up for the loss of the preseason.
Part of the reason that I and many others have frequently downplayed the importance of the NFL preseason is that most of a team’s growth and synergy during August develops during practice.
For that to be the case, though, the practices must involve a certain level of intensity—a level of intensity that could potentially be threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fortunately, at least for now, it looks as if the Titans’ practice regimen won’t be too interrupted by safety precautions stemming from the coronavirus.
“When we go to practice, it’s practice. [We’re] not going to be tiptoeing around anything. We’re getting ready to play football,” said offensive tackle Taylor Lewan.
“From my understanding, and things might change that I wasn’t told about yet, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s what I plan on doing when I get to practice.”
STRIKING THE BALANCE
Asked Vrabel if, outside of distancing procedures on the sideline, practices will be the same as usual in terms of what’s accomplished on the field: “I’d expect it to be identical.” https://t.co/3LLibcjKxz
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) August 5, 2020
It will, of course, be important for the Titans to have enough restrictions in place to ensure the safety of their players and staff members, but there has to be a balance between the safety measures and enabling productivity.
The Titans, and every other NFL team for that matter, cannot restrict themselves into a position where practices aren’t helpful. That would be a waste of everyone’s time.
“We have to go out and play football, we understand that,” said head coach Mike Vrabel, who expects 2020 Training Camp practices to look “identical” to typical Training Camp practices aside from physical distancing being enforced on the sidelines.
Not only will practices have to be intense to help the Titans make up for losing the preseason, but the team will also have to find a way to simulate live-game action to help players re-acclimate to how that feels.
The Titans’ coaching staff, which has been shuffled a decent amount since the end of the 2019 season, would also benefit from a live-game simulation of some sort. They will need some practice in working together with the new faces and with the familiar faces who have new roles.
One potential trick that Vrabel and his staff could have up their sleeve to work toward that is the option of turning a practice or two into a bona fide scrimmage, something the team has done at least once per each summer since Vrabel became head coach.
Being able to do something like that in 2020 would seemingly be ideal, given the circumstances.
“We’ve done it in the past with some of those scrimmages, whether it was in Centennial [High School], or a stadium scrimmage, or all of those types of things. I think we’ve got to make sure we do some of that stuff,” outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen said.
“Whatever it might be, I think we have to find a way to simulate it, in terms of what it’s going to be like on September 14 when we go to Denver, as best we can just to get to a trial in. We want to make sure everybody’s on the same page.”
IT JUST MEANS MORE, NOW
#Titans linebacker Rashaan Evans: In the NFL, you have to take the things you’re given and make the most of it. I look forward to see what it’s like not having the preseason, seeing what it’s like for guys to get more 1-on-1 time with coaches.
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) August 5, 2020
Players will also have to be willing to crank up their levels of individual intensity and focus as Training Camp kicks off, too.
We will almost certainly hear the refrain of, “well, practice always matters, so we really just have to approach this like normal,” over and over again as the Titans open camp, and, while there is some truth to that, it’s also a bit naive and probably not the whole truth.
An August practice following a completely virtual offseason amid a highly-restricted Training Camp that offers no preseason games does mean a lot more than your typical camp practice, or some Wednesday afternoon during the season.
“I think guys are going to have the same type of intensity, if not more, by the simple fact that the anticipation level is going to be at an all-time peak,” linebacker Rashaan Evans said.
“That’s the thing of the NFL: you have to be able to take the things you’re given and make the most of them.”
All 32 NFL teams are facing COVID-19 restrictions and fewer practices as Training Camp begins. The teams who like where they stand when it ends will be those who strike the balance between safety and productivity while adding an extra dose of intensity to the mix.
Cover image: Mark J. Rebilas & Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today