Former NFL general manager and front-office executive Charley Casserly — now an NFL.com and NFL Network analyst — spent Monday describing what he called a four-point plan to succeed in the NFL during the coronavirus pandemic. In his published article — and an appearance on NFL Network’s “Inside Training Camp Live” show on Monday afternoon — Casserly went a bit beyond just four points.
But let’s take a look at how the Kansas City Chiefs might be stacking up against Casserly’s ideas.
“Players who test positive must stay away from team facilities for at least 10 days (unless he receives two consecutive negative tests within five days of the initial positive test) and there’s a possibility of losing others who were in contact with him,” said Casserly’s article. “This could derail a team’s entire season. Staff and players must be disciplined about following protocols. That includes AWAY from the facilities, an area in which player leadership will be extremely important.”
Casserly called this a “BIG” point. And for the Chiefs... check.
The league and the NFL Players Association have already agreed on a list of risky off-field behaviors for which teams can discipline players — including visiting clubs, bars, concerts and sporting events.
“The dedication and staying disciplined when you leave this facility will be important,” said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid on Saturday. “When you’re here, this is a safe environment, so you have to continue that when you leave here. That ends up being important, and we have a plan for that, too — that we’ll talk to the players about.”
And with team leaders like Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Mahomes in the building, it’s easy to believe that players will pay attention.
We always say that depth is a big factor for NFL success, but Casserly said that this season, it will be especially important.
“The importance of developing depth is especially crucial this season. Teams have to be prepared for every player on the roster to start on Sundays because they could lose ANY player(s) during the week to positive tests and/or contact with someone who has symptoms.
“I’d have all of the defensive backs learn each position in the secondary (CB, FS, SS). It might be worth having offensive linemen study defensive line positions, and for tight ends to learn O-line positions. You just never know what situation you’ll find yourself in this season.”
For the Chiefs... check.
We already know that jack-of-all-trades Anthony Sherman is always ready to step in at tight end or running back — even when he’s carrying his normal big load on special teams. Chiefs running backs regularly line up as wide receivers in Reid’s creative offense. The Chiefs secondary already cross-trains in Steve Spangnuolo’s versatile back-end scheme, and defensive ends and tackles routinely line up away from their normal positions.
And who would bet against special teams coordinator Dave Toub insisting that this season, every player on the squad (except perhaps quarterbacks) participate in special-teams drills?
Casserly also believes depth for coaches and other staff will be equally important.
“If the head coach, a coordinator or position coach tests positive, what’s the succession plan? Quality depth matters here, too. Assistant position coaches might be asked to do more than they would in a normal year. How good those coaches are in these uncertain times matters. Coaches may have to learn to coach more than one position. For example, defensive coaches should know all of the position assignments and there should be several coaches trained as play-callers.”
Eric Bieniemy may not have yet been able to convince another team to hire him as head coach, but there’s no doubt Reid would trust him to step in for the Chiefs. Mike Kafka is already the heir-apparent as Chiefs offensive coordinator. Spagnuolo has already been an NFL head coach, and linebackers coach Matt House was defensive coordinator at the University of Kentucky before joining Kansas City. New assistant special teams coach Andy Hill ran special teams at the University of Missouri for two seasons before coming to the Chiefs. Elsewhere, there’s enough overlap in the responsibilities of assistant coaches that having to shuffle things shouldn’t be difficult.
Besides... Andy Reid has been scheming out potential changes right from the beginning of the crisis.
“When it was all said and done, I asked [Reid] how many schedules he had,” recalled Chiefs vice president of sports medicine Rick Burkholder on Saturday. “He showed me on his iPad that he had 20 different schedules. Every time they would throw us a change in the protocol, he would make a change in his schedule. He’s got it pretty mastered. It’s amazing because I got the same print-out that I’ve gotten every year for camp — it was just in July instead of May. We had to put a tweak on it this morning, but he’s a master at organization.”
Casserly also endorses a somewhat radical idea that was first championed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ head coach.
“As for players, I view quarterbacks and the O-line as the two most important position groups, so teams should consider some unique practice plans for them. Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said last month that he’d consider quarantining the team’s third QB in an effort to create a safety net in case Tom Brady and his backup get infected and can’t play. Teams can’t afford to lose their entire quarterback room. The QB3 could still learn the game plan through Zoom meetings, and he could stay sharp by throwing routes to other players who are quarantining.”
For the Chiefs... check. Maybe.
It wasn’t that surprising when the Chiefs decided early in the offseason to give backup quarterback Chad Henne another two-year contract that keeps him with the team through 2021. Henne, after all, was the guy they had chosen to be Patrick Mahomes’ primary backup before he was injured in last year’s preseason. Nor was it a surprise that when Henne was hurt, the Chiefs brought Matt Moore to replace him — since Moore had been the other quarterback they were considering when they first signed Henne.
But when the Chiefs then signed Moore to another one-year deal — giving them three quarterbacks, two of them experienced veterans — to back up Mahomes, that was a bit of a surprise. Could the Chiefs be planning to keep Moore as a deep reserve who has had little contact with the rest of the team — just in case COVID-19 gains a foothold in the quarterback room? In 2019, Moore certainly showed he was capable of coming in with relatively little practice time and be effective.
“This time,” Reid told his peers via Peter King’s “Football Morning in America” column on Monday morning, “this isn’t us versus them. This isn’t players versus owners and coaches. This is all of us — players, coaches, owners, teams — versus COVID.”
Reid has already shown he can beat the rest of the teams in the league. Now he’s lining up against what could prove to be his most formidable foe. And so far, he seems to have the upper hand.