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NFL team executive: In-person offseason activities unlikely

The NFL plans to go ahead with a drastically revised draft next month, but that is only one of the changes being made to this offseason, as the league tries to conduct business -- remotely -- during the shutdown for the coronavirus pandemic.

With so much uncertainty across the nation -- and world -- almost nothing about the league's offseason plan is completely set in stone, with one high-ranking team executive wondering this week if training camps will be able to open on time.

"In September, can we have stadiums with people in them?" the executive asked. "I'm trying to watch what's going on in China moving toward normalcy. But who knows?"

That is still more than five months away, but plenty of adjustments must be made in the meantime. There have been discussions about having virtual classroom work for players in lieu of offseason programs and strength and conditioning coaches producing workout videos for players to use at home. One concern: With gyms closed in many states, players who do not have exercise equipment in their homes are left with few options for workouts, with team facilities shut down by the league.

The team executive said that he expects there to be no in-person offseason program at all, with teams first gathering in person for training camp -- at the earliest. The league would almost certainly have to issue an edict before anybody is allowed to report if states still have different rules about non-essential workplaces being opened. The NFL would not want some teams to be able to gather in person if others can't, because of concerns about maintaining competitive balance.

In the meantime, team owners are expected to have conference calls Monday and Tuesday -- when they would normally have been at the since-canceled Annual League Meeting in Palm Beach, Florida -- and will likely take a vote to approve the expansion of the playoffs, adding two wild-card teams to the postseason field for the 2020 season.

It is unlikely owners will vote on any playing rules changes next week, but the Competition Committee has been meeting by conference call to review potential modifications.

The league still has a meeting scheduled for mid-May in Los Angeles that would include coaches, general managers and owners, at which votes on rules changes would likely take place. But one member of the Competition Committee has doubts about whether that meeting will take place and said owners might have to vote on rules changes remotely. Another option is to wait to vote until later in the summer, when there may be a better chance of gathering in person and having meetings with coaches and general managers to discuss the rules.

The Competition Committee continues to ponder replay for pass interference, which the aforementioned member of the committee expects will not be renewed for another year as it was previously constructed -- with pass interference calls and non-calls being challengeable by coaches, and then reviewed at the officiating command center by Al Riveron, the senior vice president of officiating. The rule produced widespread criticism and dissatisfaction last season.

"I think that dies," the committee member said. "I can't imagine you could get a three-quarters vote for it again."

But the committee is considering other options, including the possibility of a sky judge. The committee has raised questions about what the scope of the sky judge's powers would be -- "just to consult, or to say you missed a block in the back," the committee member conveyed.

One takeaway from early Competition Committee meetings in New York soon after the 2019 regular season ended: a feeling that Riveron should not be asked to handle replay review alone, that having to oversee replay review for every game is simply too much for any one person. The question remains whether the league would want to add sky judges in the stadium or perhaps choose to have a three-person panel in New York making replay decisions, an idea pitched by New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton.

This is the relatively quiet portion of the offseason for players, who would not normally report for work until next month. But they are already adjusting to their own set of changes, including the aforementioned disruption to normal workout routines. Kyle Rudolph, the nine-year veteran tight end for the Minnesota Vikings, was awaiting the delivery of a Tonal home gym on Friday afternoon. He lives in the Twin Cities area year-round, so he usually works out at the Vikings' facility, which is closed. Rudolph was able to continue with his regular offseason pilates classes, but his usual routine of having the team facility almost entirely to himself to get in a run and weightlifting has been upended. The team's strength and conditioning coaches and trainers have sent out emails to players outlining workouts. Rudolph hopes the Tonal will allow him to get back to a more structured strength program. Before it arrived, he was relying on resistance bands, sit-ups and 250 push-ups per day. He is also trying to get in 30 minutes to an hour of cardio work.

"It's funny because you kind of go back to what was life like for me as an athlete before I had a world-class facility," Rudolph said in a phone interview. "I did a lot of push-ups, a lot of sit-ups. I ran around the neighborhood; I ran in the yard. You try to find a park or an open field. And that's kind of what I've resorted to."

Rudolph -- who, along with his wife Jordan, announced this week a personal donation to Second Harvest Heartland to provide 82,000 meals to Minnesotans who are being most affected by the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures -- knows well what is likely to get lost if there is no offseason program at all. He was drafted in 2011, the year of an NFL lockout, when there were no offseason activities.

"I think about how many reps we get in those 10 OTA practices, in those three days in minicamp," Rudolph said. "The countless meetings we have with our coaches and we're able to go through nuances of offensive installs. Thankfully for us as an offense, this is the first time in five years that terminology's not changing. We're going to have some carry-over from last year to this year on the offensive side of the ball. I guess if there's a positive to look at in this, we're not changing terminology, we're not changing schematics, so there's some carry-over for us on the offensive side of the ball. When you ask what's the biggest thing I'll be missing, it's just the reps. It's being out there on the practice field, going against other bodies, throwing, catching, blocking, running and doing the things that you do in 13 practices."

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @JudyBattista.

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