EAGAN, Minn. — The NFL has gone virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that was on full display in recent days during the 2020 NFL Draft.
But it also holds true for teams' voluntary offseason workout programs, which the Vikings will begin today with players scattered throughout the country.
Minnesota's offseason program could have begun as early as April 20 at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, but the Vikings chose to begin theirs on April 27.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said last week that the team will begin Phase One virtually on Monday and credited the team's IT department for getting things up and running.
"The IT people have more pressure on them than I do [in the] draft, and they have more pressure on them through this virtual offseason," Spielman said. "We have a plan in place – as they were developing all this draft technology and how we're operating, they've also had to develop what we're going to do from a virtual offseason program. We have all of our pieces in place on how we're going to operate and do that.
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"We're going to kick it off on the 27th, and our coaches will be working from their homes, and then having the chat rooms with the players," Spielman added. "[Vikings Head Coach Mike] Zimmer actually laid out a whole schedule on when the meetings are – offense, defense, special teams – he even gave them a lunch break in between."
Phase One of the offseason program lasts two weeks, and teams can be together for a maximum of four hours each day, although players have a 90-minute restriction for workouts. That means offensive, defensive and special teams players are broken up into different workouts.
It is limited to strength and conditioning activities, and only strength and conditioning coaches are allowed to be involved.
Phase Two lasts three weeks, but all coaches and staff can participate. Players are only allowed to go through individual drills, as 1-on-1 and team drills are prohibited.
To sum it up, it means Mark Uyeyama, the Vikings Director of Competition Development, will lead his staff in virtual chats and workouts with players.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins recently said that he expects the first part of the offseason program to go smoothly.
"It's very little actual football on the field, and the physical activity is more in the weight room, which is really what guys should be doing on their own all this time," Cousins said. "So the value of those first five weeks of the offseason, which would take us from Monday until mid- to late-May is that installation time with the coaches, which is about two hours a day.
"So, my expectation and understanding is, we're still going to have those installations much like we [normally] do. I think it will be fascinating to see how efficient we can be getting those meetings done," Cousins added. "Now guys need to disciplined on their own and get their training in and our strength coach, Coach Uyeyama, is going to get us what we need, but those first five weeks, I think we can keep things pretty normal."
Based on this schedule, the Vikings would in theory hit the field in early June for Phase Three, which consists of 10 Organized Team Activity (OTA) practices.
Depending on where things stand, however, they may not be able to do so. According to the NFL Players Association, if one single team facility remains closed during the pandemic, then all will remain closed in order to prevent a team from experiencing a competitive disadvantage.
Cousins called the pandemic "a really unique curve ball," while Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter stressed that there is more onus than usual on the players to keep their bodies in shape.
"It definitely throws you off a little bit, but I think the No. 1 thing is just being in shape and preparing yourself for something that – you never know when you're supposed to be going in or when they're going to call us back in," Hunter said. "I think the No. 1 thing that we can all do right now is keep our bodies in shape and pay attention to our coaches, whenever they text us and all that, and then text each other and checking up on each other and seeing how we're doing."
The Vikings, and every other NFL team, are adapting to different circumstances in 2020.
But count Spielman among those who has the trust in his players and coaches that they can still be productive, even if they are connecting virtually and not all together in Eagan.
"It's not the same as the coaches being with them and getting their hands on them out there and working with them out there on the field, but it's the best [possible thing right now]," Spielman said. "We feel very confident we'll be able to get what we need to get accomplished from a classroom standpoint."