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As Broncos’ camp gets underway, onus on players to stay safe

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There’s only so much “bubble” the Broncos can provide, and Fangio, Elway and Ellis emphasized the need for players to be serious about precautions outside Dove Valley.

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Training camp is happening, and so far the Broncos have been minimally impacted by the coronavirus as just one player has opted out (Kyle Peko) due to health concerns, and one player has been placed on the COVID reserve list (Andrew Beck).

But as camp moves into high gear after the initial testing period and weight training, Broncos’ brass have noted that the onus is really going to be on the players to keep themselves protected from the coronavirus, which is still ravaging the United States.

Noting that the NFL doesn’t have “a bubble” the way the NBA and NHL have designed, head coach Vic Fangio noted that Dove Valley is a “mini-bubble” when players are there.

The danger will be when they are on their own.

“The key for us is keeping the guys out of harm’s way when they’re not in our building,” Fangio said, noting his confidence in the ability to keep things safe on their campus. “I just think we have to appeal to their intelligence, their pride, their responsibility that hey, this is different.”

Fangio, Broncos CEO Joe Ellis and Broncos GM John Elway all mentioned the heightened responsibility of the players during a news conference Tuesday.

Speaking like a parent as much as a head coach, Fangio reiterated what they have impressed upon the players so that a season can take place.

“You do not have the freedom that you’re normally used to having,” Fangio said. “When you’re not here, when you’re outside of our building and our fields, you can’t go to the bars, the restaurants. You can’t be around people you don’t know. You can’t be in gatherings of too many people because there’s invariably going to be people that you don’t know.”

Fangio also pointed out how much has been learned about the coronavirus and its ability to spread since March when most of the country - including sports - went into lockdown. The NFL has been able to wait and see how the virus would evolve and how things would play out for other sports before planning its 2020 season.

“We were hoping that [the coronavirus] would have cleared up by then to some degree. As we know, that hadn’t totally been the case,” Fangio said. “But I do think the education of everybody has improved. I can sense in talking to many of the players all through the process that they’re a lot more educated … I think all of them understand the severity of it and the consequences of if they stray too far from what they need to not do.”

Ellis noted that the Broncos are not “going to babysit” the players, but like Fangio, they hope to appeal to their desire to keep having a season.

“They’re grownups. We’ll just ask them to conduct themselves appropriately to take care of themselves such as they’ll be taking care of the whole organization, their teammates specifically and their coaches, We’ve got some good guys on the team I think that can help get that message through to them” Ellis said, adding that many players have definitely expressed concerns about their health playing in this environment. “The players have a lot of questions. They have a lot of concerns. It’s an emotional issue for them.”

Having those concerns will be what keeps Broncos players safe from infection. Both Von Miller and Kareem Jackson recovered from COVID-19 earlier this spring.

“I hope [players] take those concerns to heart and take them home, but we’re down to 80 guys. That’s a lot of guys to manage in that area. We’ll see where it goes,” Ellis said, adding he’s confident players will be given a lot of info to make sure they’re doing the right things.

“I just have faith in our guys. I really do….From what I’ve heard they have a lot of concerns and a lot of questions. They want to do this right. They don’t want to get sick. They don’t want to carry it over to their homes, to their families, all that kind of stuff. I respect that,” Ellis said. “I’m optimistic that they’re going to play by the rules and the procedures and everything else that we’ve set up.”

Part of the protection will come in the way of limiting fans at games this year - if fans will be allowed to attend at all. Season ticket holders have been given the option for a full refund this year, but there has been no decision yet as to whether any fans can come to Broncos Field. Ellis said they are considering different things, such as fan cutouts, crowd noise, etc., to make for a fun game environment.

“Playing football in a 75,000-seat stadium without any fans is going to be odd if that were to happen. No question about it,” he said. “Hopefully we can do some things to spice up the environment a little bit and add to the entertainment value of television minus fans, since they’ll be missing. No concrete plans. Some things have been talked about, but no concrete plans.”

Being prepared for how to handle coronavirus concerns is one thing, but having the team prepared for a season - after five months of a virtual off season only - definitely has its challenges, Fangio said, noting that they “all could pass a bunch of written tests that we could give them right now on their assignments, their responsibilities and their techniques.”

But the real test will come on the field.

“I think they’ve all done everything they can up to this point. Taking it from the classroom to the field is the next step,” Fangio said. “Once we see that after a few practices, we’ll be able to better answer that.”

One issue for Fangio and his coaching staff will be evaluating so many new and young players without the benefit of preseason games.

Obviously with no preseason games, we’ll lose those evaluation times. They’ve knocked practice back some in how long you can be out there. We’ve lost some practices also—real practices, not walkthroughs and Phase 2 type practices. It’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “It’ll be a challenge for the young players to learn and adapt to the game. It will be a challenge for us to make the right decisions when it comes time to select the team.”

Fangio floated the idea of some “live action on occasion” in practice to simulate games and possibly having a practice or two in the stadium to get them adjusted to playing at Mile High (albeit an empty Mile High).

“You’re right that’s going to be—a lot of those guys, all of them, you can’t evaluate them totally until it’s live action,” the coach said. “Who can tackle, who’s willing to tackle and who can break tackles? It will be an adjustment for everybody.”

One thing Fangio is definitely not worried about is Von Miller.

Miller, who was one of the first NFL players to contract coronavirus back in March, has been posting videos on Instagram of his offseason work.

And as the kids would say, they’re...filthy.

Even the coach - who has been in contact with Miller via text and has seen the videos - seems impressed.

“From everything I hear and know, I do think he’s had a hell of an offseason. We all know he had COVID there for a little bit. I don’t think he was affected much by it. It really didn’t slow him down much,” Fangio said. “I’m anxious to see him. He’s put on some weight. I know he’s worked extremely hard. I do sense that he’s got a hunger to his game and to his attitude that I don’t think he’s had the last few years in the league.”

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