It’s a new world for the Green Bay Packers. Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge during the offseason, but now that the players are back in the team facilities for training camp, there’s a different energy around the building.
General manager Brian Gutekunst, at least, is excited and pleased with the way the organization has prepared Lambeau Field and the rest of the facilities for the players’ return.
“When our players first come into the building, for me personally I feel really good and safe about how we’re going about things,” Gutekunst said in a videoconference on Sunday morning. “It gives me a lot of confidence ... I think we’ve done a really good job, not only in the facility but walking guys through (the protocols) and making sure they feel safe. I’m really proud of the organization as a whole.”
Although Gutekunst would not delve too deeply into what those protocols entail, there are some early indications from the players. Masks are required by anyone in the building, and the team has erected plastic barriers between each of the lockers in the locker room to help provide some separation.
One of the other key components of the training camp protocols involves the handling of the roster. Teams can hold 90 players on the roster until August 16th, provided that they keep the team on a split-squad rotation in the building. Gutekunst said that the team is working on the split-squad method for now, with about 83 players currently able to participate due to an opt-out and a few players showing up on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
So far, the Packers have only seen one player opt out: wide receiver Devin Funchess. Gutekunst confirmed that so far, no additional players have elected to opt out or have given any indication that they are seriously considering doing so.
With Funchess now planning to sit out the season, Gutekunst refused a suggestion that the team is looking for receiver help more strongly right now. “I wouldn’t say we’re any more active than we ever have been looking for help at any position,” he said. But with no preseason games to watch and to use for evaluation of other teams’ players, scouting in August will be a challenge: “We’re going to have to heavily rely on other ways to evaluate players on other teams and the players that are available.”
Evaluating the players on the Packers’ roster for a cut-down to 53 at the end of camp will be just as difficult. Gutekunst acknowledged that seeing how players respond under the lights in real game action is a major component of the evaluation process, but the team has some plans to simulate those environments in practice. “I’m very confident that Matt (LaFleur) and his staff will implement things in practice to replicate that opportunity as best they can,” he said, adding that “every team is going to have to do it the same way, at least without the preseason games.”
As for the response and actions of the players during the pandemic, Gutekunst is confident that the coaches and leaders in the locker room will help ensure that everyone is being responsible inside and outside of the facility. “We’ve always put the reliability, dependability factor as a major part of our evaluation process, and this year more so than any. For us to accomplish what we want to accomplish, guys have to make the right choices when they leave the building,” he said. “Matt is kind of going to lay out for all the players as far as what he expects from them ... it’s gonna be really hard to look at their teammates if they’re not making the right choices.”
The Packers currently have four players listed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. While there will likely be more as training camp goes along, Gutekunst clearly hopes and believes that the team is doing all that it can to ensure the safety and well-being of all members of the organization.