GREEN BAY – Weeks and months of virtual meetings, quarantine workouts and COVID-19 testing have the Packers finally ready to return to the practice field Saturday.
Doubtless, this year's training camp will be noticeably different, with the most obvious change being that practices will be closed to the public due to the ongoing pandemic.
As much as that reality will alter the atmosphere at Ray Nitschke Field, anticipation continues to build among Green Bay's coaches and players after spending the offseason largely in solitude. Based on the conversations Head Coach Matt LaFleur has had with others in the NFL, the Packers aren't the only team champing at the bit to play football again.
"I think that's pretty much everybody at this point. We've all been cooped up for a long time," LaFleur said. "It's great to see everybody's face back in the building and I think the guys are enjoying being around each other and getting back to football."
The key to all of this is managing safety protocols, both in Green Bay and across the league. This week, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to continue daily COVID-19 testing through the end of training camp. Players are required to maintain proper social distancing inside the facility and wear masks at all times.
As far as any other additional equipment worn during practice, the Packers are leaving those decisions up to the individual player. Green Bay will run at least two, and possibly three, practices in shells before putting pads on sometime next week.
That first padded session cannot exceed 90 minutes. That duration increases by 15 minutes each day, except for when a team is coming off a day off. In that case, it can't be any longer than the previous practice.
According to the collective bargaining agreement, the max time a team can be on the field is 2½ hours. The Packers rarely came close to that during LaFleur's first season. While veterans likely will be off the field in under 2 hours, LaFleur plans to devote that extra time to the younger players.
"We will stay out there with some of our younger players and really give them an opportunity to get more team reps and give us a chance to evaluate those guys," LaFleur said. "So we'll be out there a little bit longer … from start to finish as a team."
Every NFL team recently received a packet of drills banned from practice. The Packers plan to adhere to that and all the other standards the league and NFLPA have put in place as it relates to COVID-19.
Since players reported last month, LaFleur has cautioned Green Bay's 80-man roster to "protect the locker room" and "put the team first" when away from the facility. Through 2½ weeks, he's been pleased with what he's seen in the meeting rooms and also the discipline players have shown.
That relentless caution and attention to detail has the Packers ready to clear yet another hurdle this week, in their ultimate quest to play football this fall.
"Certainly we're going to try to remind our guys to keep their distance when they're not in there, whether it's in the drills or whether we're doing 11-on-11," LaFleur said. "But I think it will have a pretty typical feel to it, we've just got to be mindful as coaches to, when the players aren't in the specific drill or out there in 11-on-11, to stay away from each other."