JACKSONVILLE – There's time for work and time for fun.
Even in these virtual days.
For Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone, there also is a virtual time for food – and that time has found a place in the Jaguars' 2020 offseason program.
"The challenge was to make sure we have some fun with this; it's not all just Xs and Os and all that," Marrone said.
Marrone, speaking to the media Friday via videoconference, called conducting the '20 offseason program virtually under COVID-19 restrictions "a challenging time for all of us." Among the challenges of coaching via videoconference: being unable to read players' body language and not seeing sparks of recognition and comprehension in players' eyes.
"Any of us who have ever taught … when you're in front of a classroom you get a feel for that," Marrone said.
Marrone said Jaguars coaches are taking various approaches to address that difficulty – and to ensure that players are connecting, building camaraderie and remaining engaged.
"It's a little more difficult to do here," Marrone said. "We're all learning. For us, it's all new. It's been challenging, but it's also been fun. My goal is you want to see the personality come out. I've challenged the coaches and I've challenged the players to take the virtual world we're in and let's have some fun with it. Let's try to do things."
One of things Marrone is trying: a weekly contest that has nothing to do with Xs and Os, but that "gives someone a chance to show their personality."
The first contest: Cooking. Players will take a picture of ingredients, then a picture of the player cooking, then a picture of the food upon completion.
Marrone said his family quickly pointed out the contest's obvious flaw.
"At the dinner table it was brought up, 'How smart are you to have a cooking contest when no one can taste food?''' Marrone said, smiling. "I'm like, 'We're just talking about presentation.' So, this is what I have to deal with at home."
Marrone added, "Each week, we're doing something a little different like that, so I think you have a little chance to show a little bit of your personality. Before some of the meetings starting this week, a lot of the players have been talking about what they're preparing.
"So, I'm excited to at least see the visual of it."
Marrone joked that he figured the favorites were the team's biggest players – the offensive and defensive linemen.
"It's got to be O-Line and D-Line," he said, laughing. "Some of these other guys it'll be like kale salad or something. But I'm not the judge of it. I took myself out of it. For me, it's easy: Go brisket or something like that and I'm all in … prime rib, maybe.
"I'm looking forward to seeing what some of these guys do."
Marrone on a serious note said he "couldn't be happier" with how the Jaguars' 30 rookies – 12 draft selections and 18 free-agent signees – have responded in an unprecedented offseason. The only contact the players have had with team and teammates has been virtual, but Marrone said the acclimation process has been positive.
"We do it in a way that they're not taking the time up with our veteran players in the meetings; they're not holding up meetings," Marrone said. "When we're with them one-on-one or in their groups, their questions are great."
Marrone said he challenged rookies to make a good first impression – even if that impression is virtual.
"I said, 'I don't know what these first impressions are going to look like, but I want to make sure you understand we're still looking at how in this virtual setting will you be able to impress us beyond what we're asking you to do.' You see certain things like if a meeting starts at a certain time, most of those guys are logged in 15 minutes early.
"Most of those guys are prepared. They have questions ready. I've been impressed."
Marrone said second-year quarterback Gardner Minshew II, expected to be the starter after a 6-6 record as a rookie last season, has reached out to players – as have other players.
"A lot of our players are on group texts and trying to create that chemistry, which is difficult to do in a virtual setting," Marrone said. "We have some programs, some quizzes, some things we're doing with players. Gardner has done a good job of keeping everybody involved in that."
Marrone called the virtual offseason an opportunity for all players – veterans and rookies -- to show self-discipline and said the ability to do so could be key.
"There's a difference between going out there and doing it and learning in the classroom," he said. "Guys that can take things from the classroom and go out on the field will probably have a little bit of an advantage."
Marrone said from a personal perspective, the pandemic has meant more family time than would be the case during a typical NFL offseason. That has included more discussions with his teenage children.
"That's been something I think I'll look back on and appreciate," he said, also joking that his wife – Helen – is "at a point where she can't wait until I get out of here. She keeps asking more than anyone: 'When do you think you're going to start? When are you going to get out of this house?'''