NASHVILLE – The NFL said on Tuesday it is currently planning to start the regular season on time in September, with a full 16-game schedule and in front of fans.
So, as Titans Coach Mike Vrabel works during much different times because of the coronavirus pandemic, he's not spending much time wondering about the possibility of that changing.
"I would say that my focus right now is on the short-term," Vrabel said during a conference call on Wednesday, "and I'm not going to speculate on what September is going to look like."
Right now, April 2 looks like this for Vrabel:
He's working from home, preparing for an NFL Draft while also staying in regular contact with General Manager Jon Robinson and members of his coaching staff with virtual meetings.
He's figuring out ways he can make players better, not knowing how much time he'll have with them on the field this offseason, or if his coaching staff will have any on-field time at all. There's a chance all of the team's nine-week offseason program, including OTAs and minicamp, won't even take place.
"I've realized that I probably am not a very good person working at home," Vrabel said. "That's something that you take for granted, the ability to be able to (deal with others face-to-face), to not have that interaction in different meeting rooms with your coaches, especially with the players when they come back. They weren't due to come back until April 20. I think you take for granted the men and women that work from home, but it's been good. We've been able to meet, we've been able to see coaches in their homes. Jon and I talk just like we do when we're in the building often. Everybody is just kind of working through that and trying to stay focused on what we need to do to improve, and have our players ready to go mentally from a playbook standpoint in all three phases, and then also making sure that the draft prep and the conversations with the players, and the coaches' opinions are heard."
Vrabel said he has no concerns about his players staying in shape and staying healthy during a time when they're not permitted to enter Saint Thomas Sports Park to use the weight room.
Titans strength and conditioning coach Frank Piraino and director of sports medicine Todd Toriscelli will have a plan for players to follow during the next few months, until restrictions are lifted.
Vrabel said he's been in contact with his players to mentally and physically prepare them for an offseason "that's going to look pretty different."
"We don't know what that is, but it's going to be different and we'll adjust to whatever that may be," Vrabel said. "I believe that self-motivation is the core to any team's success, and I know and I'm positive that we have self-motivated players that will be doing whatever they possibly can right now. Whenever we get them back and we see them physically in our building, whenever that may be, Todd and Frank and I have already talked about making sure that there's some level of evaluation, or physical evaluation, that we're just not throwing these guys in. I know that the health of the team is the most important thing. Some guys will have access to more in-home equipment, or maybe they own a gym, whatever the situation may be.
"But, we're going to be conscious of what their level is when they come back in. We're also working through what that may look like to remote or digital or virtual learning, to try to make sure that our coaches are the best possible teachers in this time, and making sure that our players can have access to the information we would normally present them with when we get back to the offseason program, whenever that may be."
The NFL has said the schedule of games will likely be released on or around May 9.
If there's a scenario where players and coaches aren't allowed to be on the field until training camp, Vrabel acknowledged that will be a challenge for all 32 teams with new additions on rosters, and coaching staffs.
Right now, it's fair to question whether any of the offseason work will go off as initially scheduled, from rookie minicamps to OTAs to veteran minicamps.
"If that's what it ends up being, we don't complain," Vrabel said. "We try to figure out what the situation is, and we're going to make the best of it. We're going to be creative with whatever the rules are, and whatever is best for our players, that's what we're going to do. We talked about last year, there's certain guys where you have to try to improve as the season goes along without some of those reps. Whenever they say we can get on the field, or we can't get on the field, we're going to try to make sure that our players are as prepared as they can possibly be when that time comes for them to come back to our facility or engage in conversations with our coaches remotely."
For now, Vrabel is doing his best to cope during what's been a challenging time for everyone in the world.
At the start of his 35-minute conference call on Wednesday, he wished others well during a time with so much uncertainty.
"Hope everybody is safe and taking care of your loved ones like I am trying to do, and so many others," Vrabel said. "The COVID-19 pandemic has made this time very scary, very real. I want to stress how important it is to stay at home, and stay healthy, and safe. Do everything that we can individually and then as an organization to try to spread that message. This is something that needs to be taken very seriously. Something that I don't know if we're ever ready for, but we have to adjust to every distraction and make sure that we're doing everything that we can as a team and as an organization to make that as safe as it is for our players and our employees. Acknowledge our heroes in the hospitals. I think that as a society and as a team, if we can exhibit the same type of courage and commitment that those people are right now, I think we'll all be in a much better place."