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Training Camp 2020: "Normal is out of the picture"

Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone watches play against the Indianapolis Colts during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone watches play against the Indianapolis Colts during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

JACKSONVILLE – The unknown will be the norm.

And if that's the new reality around the NFL and Jaguars 2020 Training Camp, Head Coach Doug Marrone said Thursday the Jaguars must navigate that version of normal.

"Obviously, it's a very unique situation," Marrone said.

Marrone spoke to local media Thursday via video conference – his first availability since players began arriving last week for COVID-19 testing and '20 camp. He discussed multiple topics including defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, a subject covered in this story.

Marrone also on Thursday discussed the effect of COVID-19 on camp, and make no mistake:

The virus in many ways will define camp – from players and coaches being tested for COVID-19 upon arrival to signage in TIAA Bank Field to ensure social distancing.

Locker rooms and weight rooms also have been split in accordance with NFL policies to create space between players, coaches and staff. Players are mandated to be physically distanced while eating – and while in meetings. Coaches' meetings with players are being conducted via videoconference.

"Normal is really out of the picture," Marrone said, adding: "From really A to Z, you can't really say, 'This is the same.'"

All players except Ngakoue, who has yet to sign the franchise tag the team placed on him in the offseason and who therefore is not under contract, have reported to TIAA Bank Field for camp and COVID-19 testing.

As of early Thursday afternoon, five players – right tackle Jawaan Taylor, offensive lineman Ryan Pope, cornerback Luq Barcoo, defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton and offensive lineman Tre'Vour Wallace-Simms – are on the team's reserve/COVID-19 list, meaning they must clear testing protocol before being moved to the active roster. Cornerback Josiah Scott was moved from the list to the active roster Thursday.

Rookies reported last week to go through their COVID-19 testing, with Jaguars veterans reporting to go through testing this past Tuesday. Players must test negative three times before being allowed inside the team's training facility.

"There's going to be a lot of challenges for us," Marrone said. "I think there will be a lot of anxiety in different areas. It's hard to pinpoint what's going to come up next. You're really just doing the best job you can at the time."

Under an agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, teams will conduct only strength and conditioning work in these first few days of camp, with non-contact practices to begin August 11 and padded practice expected to begin August 17.

"As a coach, you want to get back on the field," Marrone said. "But again: the challenge of 'safety first' is obviously at its utmost. When people think of training camp or preseason, I think we can all paint a picture of what we expect and what we look to get out of the players and coaches and the people around, but I think this is a very unique year.

"I really don't even put it under that category of training camp and preseason. Were in a ramp-up period now and it's a little different. People like to compare it to other situations – lockouts, or whatever it may be … but it's different."

Marrone, as he spoke, held up the badge he and players, coaches and staff wear whenever in TIAA Bank Field. The badge is equipped with GPS technology to monitor movement and ensure social distancing. If the badge flashes blue, the wearer is deemed at a safe distance from others. If it flashes red, the wearer should distance from others.

"I feel real comfortable with the protocols," Marrone said.

Marrone also said meetings will be different than years past. Whereas head coaches and coordinators typically meet with players as entire teams or sides of the ball in one room, rooms are now equipped with cameras and seating enabling coaches to see all players – with the players socially distanced in many separate rooms around TIAA Bank Field.

"We're maximizing the distance between our players as much as we can," Marrone said.

Marrone also was asked how practices will differ in '20 camp, particularly considering the NFL will hold no preseason games this month. He said he has referred to his days as a head coach at Syracuse University for guidance.

"I wound up breaking out the stuff I did in college," Marrone said. "For me, it's very easy to manage – getting those situations, getting that type of experience, getting that type of live action … I feel very comfortable as far as that part without playing the preseason games."

While Marrone feels confident in terms of preparing the team without preseason games, he said their absence will make the task facing young players more difficult. He said that's particularly true of the 18 players who signed with the team as free agents shortly after the 2020 NFL Draft.

"The challenges for these young guys are much greater than they've been in the past," Marrone said.

Marrone on Thursday said the efforts of players, coaches and staff away when away from the team will be critical moving forward.

"There's a lot of self-discipline involved, and a lot of relying on your teammates and their self-discipline," Marrone said. "I've been really staying away from my wife and children because they have a group of people that go on. It's just a responsibility we all have to each other to not bring this virus into the building and not to spread it."

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